Qatar’s Reconciliation with Gulf Nations Slowed Over Confrontations with Bahrain
The incidents come amid reports that a reconciliation agreement between Qatar and four Arab states will be forthcoming at January GCC summit
A full reconciliation between Qatar and four Arab states over a three-year-old crisis may take a little more time due to maritime incidents with Bahrain.
In recent weeks, there have been reports in news outlets in the Arab Gulf that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain would reach a final agreement over the dispute during a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that was to have been held in Bahrain in late December, but that has been moved to Riyadh and postponed until January 5.
But late last month, three Qatari coast guard vessels stopped two boats belonging to Bahrain’s coast guard that were returning from taking part in a maritime exercise, leading to tensions between the two countries. A second incident occurred on December 12 when Qatar’s coast guard arrested three people on a Bahraini cruiser catching fish in Qatari territorial waters.
Bahrain’s interior ministry called the Dec. 12 incident “inconsistent with the principles” of the GCC nations and said it reflected Qatar’s “hostility.”
Meanwhile, Bahrain’s cabinet on Monday called for bilateral negotiations with Qatar on the status of sailors in the two countries.
The Bahraini cabinet is asking Qatar to “allow Bahraini sailors to fish in Qatari waters to the Qatari-UAE borders, and in return, the Kingdom of Bahrain allows Qatari sailors to fish in Bahraini waters to the Bahraini-Saudi border, as was the case in previous decades.”
The cabinet added, according to the official statement issued after the session Monday: “Based on the position of the Council of Representatives, which represents the desire of the citizens, we stress the importance of direct bilateral negotiations with the State of Qatar to reach an agreement on the continuity of allowing fishermen in the two countries to practice their activities in accordance with what has been known for decades and for the benefit of the citizens.” This, the cabinet suggested, “will enhance joint Gulf cooperation.”
In June 2017, GCC member-states Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, alongside non-GCC member Egypt began an air, sea and land blockade of Qatar, claiming that Qatar supports terrorism and is too close with Iran. Qatar has denied these charges and refused to comply with the group’s demands to close a Turkish military base on its soil and cool diplomatic relations with Iran.
None of the countries involved in the dispute have confirmed nor denied that a reconciliation agreement will be forthcoming at the upcoming GCC summit, which is scheduled to be attended by the emir of Qatar, Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The Kuwaiti foreign minister, Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Sabah, announced earlier this month during a speech broadcast on Kuwait state television that “fruitful talks” had taken place with Kuwaiti and American mediation to resolve the crisis between Qatar and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on December 4, during the first session of Manama Dialogue, that his country’s allies are “on the same line” with regard to resolving the Gulf crisis, and that a final agreement is expected soon.
Statements also were issued by UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash on his official Twitter account, and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in local media about the importance of reaching an agreement to end the crisis. There has been no official statement from Bahrain, however.
Bahraini media have escalated the level of rhetoric against Qatar this month, after the Kuwaiti foreign minister’s statements about the imminent conclusion of a comprehensive Gulf agreement, while the media in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt have reduced the intensity of their attacks on Doha.
Following the first incident on Nov. 25 with the Qatari coast guard, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, in an official statement, called the incident “an attack on Bahrain, through which Qatar is aiming for political coercion, while Bahrain always deals with these situations with restraint and wisdom.”
In response to a parliamentary question, Al Zayani said that “Bahrain will not give up any of its lands or territorial waters, while Qatar tried to falsify the facts before the International Court of Justice in 2000, and it was arresting Bahraini fishermen in Bahraini territorial waters, confiscating their boats, and imprisoning them there, and Bahrain was silent in order to protect Gulf unity.”
“The Kingdom of Bahrain will take all necessary measures to guarantee its sovereign rights and the rights of its citizens in accordance with the mechanisms available under the umbrella of the Cooperation Council, at least for the time being,” he added.
Bahrain believes that it has conceded a lot for the sake of Gulf unity, and historical incidents are witness
Mohammed Al-Sisi Al-Buainain, head of the Foreign Affairs, Defense and National Security Committee in the Bahrain Council of Representatives, during a news conference condemned “the absurd, provocative practices by the Qatari authorities towards Bahrain, which constitute an attack on Bahrain’s sovereignty in its territorial waters and a violation of international laws and conventions,” referring to last month’s coast guard confrontation following the Al-Manea Maritime exercise north of Dahl al-Dibal.
Commenting on the news of imminent Gulf reconciliation, he told The Media Line that “there is nothing official yet.”
He added that the incident occurred in the territorial waters of Bahrain as provided for in a 1993 law regarding the territorial sea of the Kingdom of Bahrain and the adjacent region, and that “the provisions of this law are still in force and have not been repealed or amended by any other legislation and are still in place, supporting the kingdom’s right to continue to exercise its sovereignty over its territorial waters, and it is not permissible to surrender or give up anything from its territory.”
A Kuwaiti official told The Media Line that “Bahrain would like to obtain guarantees that the Qatari attacks on its lands, its interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs, and Qatar’s support for terrorist groups in Manama must stop, and all attempts by Qatar to take more Bahraini territorial waters must stop.”
He added: “Bahrain believes that it has conceded a lot for the sake of Gulf unity, and historical incidents are witness. It believes that any forthcoming Gulf agreement should not be excluded from its interest and that Bahrain will not concede again.”
For example, he said: “Bahrain previously gave up the so-called Zubarah region, and Qatar historically follows Bahrain, and therefore the tension between Bahrain and Qatar continues, and the dispute over some maritime borders has not been resolved, as Bahrain adheres to what was previously agreed upon, and Qatar seeks to change this agreement.”
He stressed that “the 13 conditions stipulated by the ‘Arab Quartet’ countries will not be waived, but perhaps an agreement will be made on a work plan related to implementing these conditions.”
“The problem is not in the 13 conditions only, but rather in the tension that has existed for a long time between Bahrain and Qatar, and we do not know how it will be resolved, especially since the recent Qatari aggression by the coast guard came while negotiations are underway to resolve the Gulf crisis, and it may look like a lack of seriousness on the part of Qatar to resolve the dispute with Bahrain specifically,” he added.
Bahraini political analyst Saad Rashid told The Media Line that “the Qatari regime misunderstood reconciliation.”
He said that “the reconciliation is not, as some think, as if nothing happened. The boycotting countries will not concede their conditions, and Doha is required to implement them. As for the marketing by Kuwait, it is a positive thing, but there is a difference between wishes and reality, and this system is based on an extremist terrorist mentality, and everyone must keep this point in mind. Our countries will not give up their security and stability to please America or anyone else.”
Bahraini writer Sawsan Al-Shaer, who is close to decision-making centers in Bahrain, has stated in several recent articles in which she attacked Qatar that no one would bet on the position of the Kingdom of Bahrain in its enthusiasm for the cohesion of the Gulf Cooperation Council system.
She added in one of her articles: “Finally, we are at peace with Qatar’s return to its natural embrace and its true authentic home. This will not be at the expense of our security nor at the expense of our sovereignty over our borders.”
The varying approaches to normalization with Israel demonstrate that each Gulf state has different interests and timelines associated with regional issues. The same dynamics apply to a potential resolution of the Gulf crisis involving Qatar. It is entirely possible that these discussions could fail to produce a major, durable breakthrough – stranger things have happened in 2020
Robert Mogielnicki, a resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told The Media Line, ”This crisis has dragged on long enough that, despite renewed political interest, there is not necessarily an acute sense of urgency in its resolution.
“Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have each found ways to mitigate the worse economic impacts of the crisis and arrive at a sustainable, although not ideal, status quo,” Mogielnicki said. “Arriving at a genuine resolution that adequately satisfies the various Gulf parties is going to be a slow, arduous process.
“The varying approaches to normalization with Israel demonstrate that each Gulf state has different interests and timelines associated with regional issues. The same dynamics apply to a potential resolution of the Gulf crisis involving Qatar. It is entirely possible that these discussions could fail to produce a major, durable breakthrough – stranger things have happened in 2020.”
Elana DeLozier, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Media Line that reports of “a patching up of the Gulf rift has dominated the news, as it does every year, in the runup to the annual GCC summit. Like past years, the wind seems to be going out of the sails as the annual summit approaches.”
“This year, like last year, Saudi Arabia seemed most open to healing the rift of the Quartet countries, but the Saudi-Qatar efforts to find confidence-building measures they can both agree to and trust has been difficult,” DeLozier said, adding that “it is possible they will pull the rabbit out of the hat in January, but even if so, the actual healing of the rift will take time. Buy-in will not be immediate.”