Gulf states in “race to the heart of the Israeli lobby”

Gulf states are in a “race to the heart of the Israeli lobby,” according to California State University, Stanislaus, scholar As’ad AbuKhalil.

In an interview with The Real News Network, AbuKhalil talks about how Saudi Arabia and its regional rivals, especially Qatar, use their ties with Israel as a means to jockey for more support from the United States.

“It started after [the 9/11 attacks] when Saudi Arabia felt that the best way to achieve forgiveness from the public of the United States and from Congress for the involvement of Saudi citizens” was to form “close relations with Israelis and the Israeli lobby,” AbuKhalil says in the interview that can be watched above.

But according to AbuKhalil, covert Saudi-Israeli ties date back to the 1960s.

He also speaks about how the financial dependence of mainstream Palestinian factions on Gulf regimes served to push the Palestine Liberation Organization towards concessions to Israel, especially accepting the idea of the two-state solution in 1974.

“Open conflict”

AbuKhalil says that while there have always been conflicts and rivalries among the Gulf states, what is happening now is an “unprecedented open conflict.”

Last June, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, including the United Arab Emirates, imposed a political and economic blockade on Qatar.

This was an attempt to force Qatar into line over its relations – too friendly in the eyes of Riyadh – with regional rival Iran.

Qatar also came under pressure to scale back its political and material support for Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip.

In a major blow to Doha, US President Donald Trump joined in the attacks on Qatar, echoing its rivals’ accusations that it was supporting terrorism.

Saudi Arabia and its satellites, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, have long played the game of seeking Washington’s affections through the Israeli government.

As part of its fightback, Qatar has also curried favor with Israel by inviting key leaders of Israel’s Washington lobby for all-expenses-paid junkets to Doha, including the head of the Zionist Organization of America.

Influential anti-Palestinian propagandists have returned to the US to sing Qatar’s praises.

Alan Dershowitz even sympathetically compared the wealthy emirate to Israel, as a state “surrounded by enemies, subject to boycotts and unrealistic demands, and struggling for its survival.”

Al Jazeera documentary suppressed?

Israel lobby leaders also claimed that Qatari officials promised them to suppress an undercover documentary filmed by Al Jazeera that would expose lobby activities in the US, similar to a film that last year cast light on the underhanded activities of British groups tied to Israel.

Qatar has denied that it has ordered Al Jazeera not to broadcast the film.

Pro-Israel groups likely to be featured in the documentary received letters from the network early in February asking them for comment, presumably for inclusion in the film. The letters reportedly set a deadline of 22 February for their responses.

That could indicate that the film is still in final stages of preparation before broadcast.

But the fact remains that it is four months since the network’s chief investigative reporter Clayton Swisher announced that the documentary would be shown “very soon” and it has yet to be aired.

Whatever happens with the film, there’s no doubt Qatar’s broader PR campaign has paid off. Qatar-US ties have already warmed up considerably.

Qatari mediator?

Qatari officials are also open about their relationships with Israel in the context of attempting to prevent a further escalation in Israeli violence against Palestinians in Gaza.

There have been growing fears that Gaza could see another major Israeli attack.

In recent months Israel’s frequent fire has injured and killed numerous unarmed civilians in Gaza; there have been occasional rockets from the Gaza side that have injured no one and last Saturday there was an explosion near the boundary fence that injured four Israeli occupation soldiers.

Israel followed this with large-scale air raids and artillery fire that killed two boys in the territory.

“We confirm through our relationship with the two sides that they are not interested in an escalation or entering a confrontation that will ignite the entire region,” Muhammad al-Emadi, the Qatari official responsible for overseeing the distribution of his country’s aid in Gaza, told media in Gaza City on Monday.

Kuwait apart

According to AbuKhalil, some regional leaders are prepared to go along with US “peace” plans that amount to “nothing less than legitimization of Israeli occupation and the abandonment of Jerusalem as a capital for the Palestinians.”

Interestingly, he observes that Kuwait has stood apart from this dynamic and has taken a neutral position in the Saudi-Qatari confrontation.

He notes that before the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait there was a very large Palestinian community there that “infused the political culture of Kuwait with [an] element of justice and sympathy for the Palestinians.”

“Kuwait today is deviating away from the Gulf countries in terms of normalization [with Israel],” he adds.

Buying love

One part of the Gulf states’ strategy to win US support, AbuKhalil says, is “expediting normalization with the occupation state of Israel.”

The other is “investing more” in the US as a way to secure support – with Qatar and Saudi Arabia each pledging multi-billion dollar deals.

Clayton Swisher and Ryan Grim report in The Intercept that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner’s attempts to secure financing for a troubled New York real estate project before and after the 2016 election.

Charles Kushner, Jared’s father, reportedly secured a $500 million investment pledge from a fund run by Qatar’s former prime minister, but only if the Kushners could raise additional billions elsewhere – which they failed to do.

“Left in the lurch, we now know that Jared Kushner just weeks later devised a plan with Saudi Arabia to form a coalition with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain to jump Qatar,” Swisher and Grim write.

That raises the question of whether – viewed from Doha – Qatar should be relieved it dodged involvement in a murky scandal or regret that it didn’t pay the Kushners what would in hindsight have been protection money.