Land for Land: Qatar’s Balfour Declaration to Sacrifice Cause of Palestine

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hossein Kebriaeizadeh
Expert on Middle East Issues

New reports on the recent meeting of the member states of Arab Peace Initiative Ministerial Committee in Washington indicate that a modified form of 2002 Arab Peace Initiative has been discussed in the meeting. Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani chaired the committee meeting. According to Sheikh Hamad, who is both the prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, the most recent version of the initiative is based on the establishment of two states within borders recognized in 1967, and a clause has been added, and agreed to by both parties, for slight exchange of land.

It should be noted that “land for land initiative” is part of the proposed peace process. Therefore, to shed more light on all existing dimensions of this issue, the Arab Peace Initiative should be considered within framework of a plan offered by the United States Secretary of State John Kerry. It was just recently when international media released reports on a plan proposed by Qatar to get the Middle East peace process under way. It is noteworthy that the original Arab Peace Initiative put emphasis on the need for Israel to withdraw behind 1967 borders, recognized the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, and also made way for the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Al-Quds as its capital. The new initiative offered by Qatar, however, has made changes to some of these points which can be summarized as follows:

1. Crossing out the provision on the need for Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab lands in the Golan heights and Lebanon;

2. Emphasis on the need to achieve a negotiated solution to the problem of refugees without requiring that solution to be “fair” and erasing the note which called for that solution to be “based on the UN General Assembly Resolution 194;” and

3. Removing the clause about East Al-Quds being the capital of the Palestinian state in the third paragraph of the initiative.

Many experts and scholars including Robert M. Danin, a member of the US Council on Foreign Relations, believe that by changing the configuration of the original Arab Peace Initiative, Qatar is actually trying to reconstruct a new peace process which could be attributed to the original Arab Peace Initiative while, on the contrary of that initiative, be rapidly productive and result-based. In this way, Qatar hopes it would be able to encourage Arab states to uphold the new initiative. Danin has argued that pragmatism in Qatar’s foreign policy is a positive component and the Arab – Western front is trying to integrate that component into the Arab – Israeli peace process.

Kerry, who had earlier talked about necessity of making small alterations to the Arab Peace Process, is now of the opinion that such small alterations in Qatar’s initiative will ultimately lead to total metamorphosis of the original Arab Peace Initiative from legal and political viewpoints. Such an initiative cannot necessarily create a consensus among all Arab nations, even between such states as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In this way, the possibility for the success of the plan will drastically reduce given sharp reactions that Palestinian groups are expected to show to Qatar’s initiative.

On the other hand, since Israel has already embarked on constructing vast settler units on premium and strategic parts of Palestinian lands, Qatar’s land for land initiative possibly envisages the exchange of those strategic plots of land with less strategic parts (such as Negev Desert). Therefore, taking into account that Israel’s settlement policy aims to prevent uniformity and integrity of the Palestinian lands, this policy will be pursued against the Palestinian nation with more force through land for land initiative.

It is undeniable that Qatar has been acting as a smart player in international system. Therefore, the main reason for the presentation of this initiative should be found through a study of Qatar’s behavior and its interaction with the rest of the international community. In view of the internal limitations with which Qatar is facing in terms of hard power potentials, pursuit of a pragmatic foreign policy has been the main option for Doha in its effort to overcome the security concerns it has been facing. However, the most important point with respect to the issue of Palestine is that Qatar’s approach to this issue is similar to its approach to solving the crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region, or Doha’s approach to border disputes between Eritrea and Djibouti. This means that when playing its role in the issue of Palestine, Qatar does not care for the cause of Palestine and is not trying to realize the goals and ideals of the Palestinian nation. Doha considers the issue of Palestine as an opportunity to promote its own regional role and heal the internal damages which it has suffered in competition with other regional powers; it is by no means trying to pursue the cause of Palestine.

Key Words: Arab Peace Initiative, Land for Land, Qatar’s Balfour Declaration, Palestine, Kebriaeizadeh

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