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Gulf reconciliation is a return to reason and pragmatism

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L-2), Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (4th L), Deputy Prime Minister of Oman Fahd bin Mahmoud al Said (L-3), Salman, Crown Prince of Bahrain (R-3), Vice President of the United Arab Emirates Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (R-2) and Emir of Kuwait Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah (L) during 41st Summit of Gulf Cooperation Council in AlUla, Saudi Arabia on 5 January 2021 [Qatari Emirate Council/Anadolu Agency]
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L-2), Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (4th L), Deputy Prime Minister of Oman Fahd bin Mahmoud al Said (L-3), Salman, Crown Prince of Bahrain (R-3), Vice President of the United Arab Emirates Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (R-2) and Emir of Kuwait Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah (L) during 41st Summit of Gulf Cooperation Council in AlUla, Saudi Arabia on 5 January 2021 [Qatari Emirate Council/Anadolu Agency]

Citizens across the Gulf States have rejoiced at the reconciliation agreed this week, especially the Qataris and Saudis. The blockade imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt lasted three and a half years during which harsh conditions affected a country that has no land border except with Saudi Arabia.

The conflict began in 2017 and had no logical basis, as Qatar posed no threat to any of its neighbours. It stood accused of harbouring and supporting "terrorists", including the Muslim Brotherhood, but the movement neither dominated the Arab scene in 2017, nor threatened any Arab or Gulf states. That is not what the blockading countries imagined, though.

Moreover, they hoped to dissuade Qatar from developing its links with Iran and Turkey. However, Iran has not changed its modus operandi since 2017 and will not do so until there is constructive dialogue with the Gulf States. Turkey was not and is not a threat to the Gulf. The question is, therefore, what did the blockading countries get out of the crisis?

All of them have signed the reconciliation agreement, but Saudi Arabia seems to be the most enthusiastic about it. This may reflect new circumstances, but it is likely that it will mean cool political relations with Doha accompanied by warm links between Saudi and Qatari citizens. They will benefit from freedom of movement, especially across the border between their two countries. This is the most important aspect of the deal, because it transcends all the political positions based on circumstantial interests that may change overnight.

READ: Israel is keeping its eye on Gulf reconciliation efforts

Many of the fears raised by the Gulf crisis will haunt the leaders. There are lessons to be learned from everything that has happened since 2017, not least that the neighbours are interdependent and alternative policies have enabled Qatar to get through the blockade relatively unscathed. There is a clearer understanding about regional and international trends affecting the region.

In Qatar's case, sticking to the constants and developing international and regional alliances has yielded results. Turkey has provided political and security cover for Qatar, and US President Donald Trump discovered the importance of the small country as a US military base, which set limits on the escalation allowed against the government in Doha.

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L) is welcomed by Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (R) ahead of the 41st Summit of Gulf Cooperation Council in AlUla, Saudi Arabia on January 05, 2021 [Royal Council of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency]

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L) is welcomed by Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (R) ahead of the 41st Summit of Gulf Cooperation Council in AlUla, Saudi Arabia on January 05, 2021 [Royal Council of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency]

What's more, it was clear that Qatar is committed to confronting terrorism in a more advanced way than a number of other countries in the region. The neutrality of fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members Kuwait and Oman, meanwhile, confirmed that the blockading states were unable to convince them of the strength of their case against Qatar.

As a result, many media attacks and accusations began to fall away, leaving nothing but discussions about Al Jazeera, which is the most advanced media network in the Arab world. Although 13 demands were made of Qatar for the siege to be lifted, the situation reached the stage where it was lifted in exchange for a cold peace. In essence, everyone has reached the place that the late Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad, may God have mercy on his soul, called for from the beginning, which was not to harm sovereignty in relations between states.

READ: What's next for Egypt after the GCC Al-Ula summit?

Due to the extent of our region's attachment to the US system (divided as it is) the Gulf scene raises questions about the presence of Trump adviser Jared Kushner. His involvement suggests that there are arrangements for the next stage in the agreement.

So has the right-wing alliance between American evangelicals and Israel entered a new phase to deal pre-emptively with incoming President Joe Biden, a new policy towards Iran and a new calmness in the Middle East's popular political trends and the human rights situation, which has reached its lowest level? US pressure is on the region, but will the Gulf become a battlefield for the Republican-Democrat conflict? Will the latter have an impact on the Middle East?

Gulf reconciliation is a return to reason and pragmatism; a return to realism and an attempt to hold on to some independence, while moving away from the imposition, force and zero-sum solutions that prevailed in 2017. Congratulations to Sheikh Sabah for his effort that he did not live to see; congratulations to the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry and its young minister for their perseverance; and congratulations to every believer in the school of rational relations between the Arab countries.

This article first appeared in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 6 January 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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