Since Israel’s agreement with the United Arab Emirates was announced, there have been intermittent reports and speculation that Qatar might be the next country to follow suit—a move to be accompanied by improved relations with the U.S. This wealthy peninsular emirate occupies a strange position: friendly with Washington and home to a U.S. airbase, but at the same time supporting Islamists (including Hamas), maintaining friendly relations with Iran, and exporting anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda through its Al Jazeera network. Doha has also allied itself with Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood against Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. Examining these complex circumstances, Kobi Michael and Yoel Guzansky try to make sense of where Israel’s interests lie:
The closer ties between the UAE and Israel . . . allow the former to increase its influence in the Palestinian territories at Qatar’s expense, although perhaps not in the short term. Unlike Qatar, the UAE currently lacks leverage in the Palestinian arena because it considers Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, an enemy. In addition, the Palestinian Authority leadership is removed from the UAE, mainly due to its support for Mohammed Dahlan, a rival of Mahmoud Abbas for leadership of the PA.
This issue was part of the well-orchestrated Qatari media campaign strongly criticizing normalization with Israel, which even attacked the acting ruler of the Emirates, Mohammad ben Zayed, accusing him of neglecting the Palestinians. However, Qatar maintained room to maneuver by refraining from official criticism of the normalization process in itself, and even recently expressed support for President Trump’s peace plan, while declaring that it would not normalize relations with Israel until there was a settlement with the Palestinians, and that it supported the Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for a solution of the conflict.
Israel has a clear interest in thawing relations with the Gulf states, mainly because this will drive a wedge between Turkey and Qatar—in effect breaking the Muslim Brotherhood axis. It would also weaken Turkey’s influence in the Gulf arena, damage Ankara’s regional standing, and limit the financial assistance flowing from Qatar to Turkey and thence to the Muslim Brotherhood. So long as Qatar chooses an alliance with Turkey, the Israeli interest must be to limit its role and influence in the Palestinian arena, and demonstrate a clear preference for the influence of the UAE.
Israel’s continuing reliance on Qatar as its preferred broker in the Palestinian arena, together with the ongoing hostility and strategic competition between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates . . . will put Israel in a difficult position with the UAE. Against its will and due to circumstances, Israel could find itself caught in the struggle between Abu Dhabi and Doha, which could in turn affect its relations with both.