When it serves their purposes, Qatar’s staggeringly wealthy two most powerful players strut about in very traditional Arab garb. But when the occasion deems it expedient, they soothe subliminal western anxieties by donning tailored suits of the exceptionally elegant sort that proliferates in European Union forums. That purportedly imparts an impression of trustworthiness.
The cousins’ policy line is just as chameleon-like. There’s a yawning gap between their utterances in English and in Arabic.
Not too many years ago, Qatar was an Israeli success story, or so it was widely believed in Jerusalem. Relations with Doha, especially trade ties, flourished since the mid-Nineties. They weren’t formal or full, yet they were hardly covert. Everyone knew about them. Unnamed Qatari higher-ups had reportedly visited Israel and Shimon Peres, then deputy premier, openly visited Qatar in 2007. Tzipi Livni did the same a year later. Other Israelis, such as Ehud Barak, hobnobbed with the emir.
But Qatar unilaterally abrogated these ties after Operation Cast Lead. Doha offered to restore them if Israel allowed unrestricted shipments of building materials to Gaza. Since these can be used to build bunkers, Israel refused.
However, the Qatari transformation isn’t only Israeli-linked. Qatar had become the financial sponsor of the misnamed Arab Spring, bankrolling assorted Muslim Brotherhood insurgents and their allies. The upheavals shaking the Arab world – Syria foremost – were in effect orchestrated by Doha.
The emir – despite his excellent personal ties with Israelis, Americans and other Westerners – has used his clout and unimaginable riches to bring to power and sustain Islamist forces that are fundamentally inimical to the West, to say nothing of their implacable hatred for the Jewish state.
With abundant hype, pomp and circumstance the emir visited Gaza last autumn. It was the first such high-profile gesture by a head of state since Hamas seized power in 2007. It allowed Gaza to eclipse Ramallah and demonstrate that the post-Arab-Spring rise of the Muslim Brotherhood bolsters Hamas, itself a Brotherhood offshoot.
This yet again underscored the Brotherhood’s reinforced impact, via collusion with Gulf State Islamists. The inherent incendiary potential cannot be belittled, even if US President Barak Obama prefers to obfuscate the gloomy reality he has helped create.
No matter what spin was spun, the emir was clearly seen as meddling in the intra-Palestinian squabbles, putting his full political weight behind the utterly rejectionist Hamas that explicitly proclaims its aspiration to destroy Israel.
The emir underwrites his support with financial largesse as well. This puts him in league with particularly fanatic forces. He has, for example, been a most generous benefactor to such militant jihadist groups as Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida subsidiary now on the warpath in Syria.
Not to be omitted is the pivotal importance of the Qatar-based al-Jazeera news network, which serves the Thanis’ agenda at the expense of even token journalistic integrity. Al-Jazeera’s inflammatory tendentious reporting has fomented insurgencies in Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria.
One would therefore assume that such non-too-innocuous intervention would decisively give the lie to Qatar’s purported moderation and peaceful inclinations.
But on the opportune occasion of the Qatari prime minister’s recent stopover in Washington, the chameleon switched colors again. Stylishly attired in a dark confidence-boosting business suit and schmoozing Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden in cordial English, their guest successfully peddled worn old merchandise as a novel revolutionary concept.
Needless to stress, Obama’s crew bought it all, lock stock and barrel as per the Kerry/Biden inclination from the outset. Perhaps they altogether suggested the stratagem that they later appeared to laud as an extraordinary breakthrough in attempts to resurrect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.Of course the raison d’être of these talks is – one way or another – to squeeze Israel back into those incredibly untenable 1949 armistice lines, in effect till June 4, 1967 and now misrepresented as bona fide borders.
And so, the international community and Israel’s ever-obliging left-wing were quite expectedly wowed when al-Thani declared that “The Arab League delegation affirmed that agreement should be based on the two-state solution on the basis of the 4th of June 1967 line, with the [possibility] of comparable and mutual agreed minor swap of the land.”
Been there. Heard that. But so what? When supposed honest brokers determine that the secondhand castoff is in fact spanking new, their say-so ostensibly constitutes a sterling seal of approval. Such recycling in turn becomes a means to ply more pressure on Israel with a perceived fresh Arab concession, which is nothing of the sort.
For one thing, Qatar’s Gazan protégés spurn the rehashed concoction. Haniyeh minced no words: “To those who speak of land swaps we say: Palestine is not a property, it’s not for sale, not for a swap and cannot be traded.”
Ramallah figurehead Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t more forthcoming. He couldn’t afford to even appear to be.
But even that’s not new. Territorial swaps were already discussed by then-premier Ehud Barak in his near-desperate peace-drive of 2000-2001 that began in Stockholm, continued in Camp David and expired ignominiously in Taba.
Barak’s ultra-dovish foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami kept detailed journals throughout the negotiations. These featured in a very lengthy interview granted to Ha’aretz’s Ari Shavit. Published on September 14, 2001 and entitled “The Day the Peace Died,” Ben-Ami’s extensive monologue still offers spellbinding insights.
Among them is that when territorial swaps were proposed, the Palestinian side “would only consider taking possession of Kochav Yai’r” – where Barak resided at the time. There were also not-so-veiled threats of violence. Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat named September 13, 2000 as a deadline. Two weeks thereafter the intifada raged.
When the prolonged haggling was over, Ben-Ami retroactively understood that Israel “operated under misguided conceptions about the other side’s intentions. For Arafat Oslo constituted a mega-camouflage behind which he exerted political pressure and employed varying measures of terror to undermine the very notion of a two-state solution.”
Ben-Ami notes that while Israel kept retreating from one “red line” to another, eventually agreeing to handover almost anything the Palestinians insisted upon, including much of Jerusalem and its Holiest of Holies, “never at any point did the Palestinians so much as draft any counter-proposals.”
That, Ben-Ami belatedly concluded, “was the crux of the matter. The Israeli side forever finds itself in a dilemma: either we quit because this bunch is unwilling to suggest anything, or we manage one more concession, one more kvetch [squeeze in Yiddish]. At the end, however, even the most moderate person arrives at a point in which he admits to himself that the other side has no endgame. Kvetch after kvetch but they’re never satisfied. It never ends.”
With painstaking detail Ben-Ami lists each and every kvetch, each and every vital position from which Barak and his team were reluctantly pushed by the intractable Palestinians. Even while Israeli negotiators sacrificed Jerusalem, the Palestinians “weren’t ready for as much as allowing a face-saving formulation for Israel.”
A senior American go-between opined to Ben-Ami that “all the Palestinians want is to humiliate you.” They even degradingly rejected a last shameful Israeli entreaty for “subterranean sovereignty underneath the Temple Mount, denying that we have any right whatsoever there.”
When Ben-Ami was willing to make do with a Palestinian undertaking not to dig atop the Mount, “because it’s holy to Jews, they adamantly refused to agree to any mention of any sanctity anyplace for Jews.”
What distressed Ben-Ami most “wasn’t just their refusal but how they refused – with total contempt. They were dismissive and arrogant towards us… They weren’t willing to make even an emotional or symbolic conciliatory gesture. In the deepest sense they were loath to acknowledge that we have any claim here.”
Camp David eventually flopped, according to Ben-Ami, because “the Palestinians refused to give us any inkling about where their demands would terminate. Our impression was that they constantly sought to drag us into a black hole of another concession and another, without there being anything like a discernible finish-line.”
Ben-Ami’s unavoidable conclusion was that “more than the Palestinians want their own state they want to condemn ours… They always leave loose ends… to keep viable the option that at some future point someone would pull these ends and unravel the Jewish state.”
To be sure, like his fellow leftists, Ben-Ami even then couldn’t bring himself to fully renounce his patently indefensible ideological creed. But although still professing faith in his smitten idols, he nonetheless cautioned against “ignoring what was revealed to us – Palestinian and Islamic positions which defy our very right to exist. We mustn’t continue the culture of kvetch which might lead us to suicide…We must no longer relinquish Jewish and Israeli patriotism. We must understand that we aren’t always guilty. We must learn to say ‘till here and no farther.’ If the other side aims to destroy even this nucleus, we must steadfastly defend it.”
Ben-Ami at least learned something. But in 2008 another prime minister, Ehud Olmert, sought to magnify Barak’s errors and then some. Nonetheless, even his remarkable offer was rebuffed.
Now Netanyahu is called upon to kvetch once more, if for no other objective than for improving our tarnished image. Here, however, we need to pause and wonder why our image is at all tarnished. It’s mind-boggling how the Arabs can appear so conciliatory when sacrificing nothing, while Israel is regarded as intransigent when conceding endlessly and at great existential risk.
It may well be that our reputation is sullied precisely because of our very readiness to concede. Our pliability isn’t without detrimental consequences. Even futile negotiations do great harm down the line. Simply put, egregious territorial generosity undercuts all future Israeli bargaining positions. Once any Israeli representative has kvetched, his kvetch cannot be taken back because only Israel is always required to kvetch.
The Arab side’s show of goodwill is eminently achieved merely by sending out members of the Qatari ruling family – or their counterparts elsewhere in oil-glutted Arabia – always in their sartorial best to impress world opinion with suitable blandishments. The ingratiating manners of the movers and shakers from the house of Thani invariably predispose all and sundry in their favor while we keep kvetching.