Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

Danin analyzes critical developments and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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This Week: Palestinian Unity, GCC-Qatar Comity, and Syrian Duplicity

by Robert M. Danin
April 24, 2014

Foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council's countries attend a meeting in the Saudi port city of Jeddah September 10, 2013 (Al Qarni/Courtesy Reuters). Foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council's countries attend a meeting in the Saudi port city of Jeddah September 10, 2013 (Al Qarni/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Palestinian Unity. The Israeli cabinet voted unanimously to suspend peace talks with the Palestinian Authority today because of the unity agreement announced yesterday between Fatah and Hamas. Rejecting the notion of negotiating with a government “backed by Hamas,” prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Whoever chooses the terrorism of Hamas does not want peace.” The deadline for the completion of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations set nine months ago by Secretary of State Kerry expires on April 29. See my analysis of the Palestinian reconciliation agreement in my blog post from yesterday.

Qatar-GCC. In the first public comments by a Qatari official on last week’s agreement in Riyadh to end months of tension within the GCC, Qatari foreign minister Khalid bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah denied yesterday that Doha had made any concessions. While the details of the agreement have not been made public, there has been speculation that it included a Qatari agreement to tone down Al Jazeera’s coverage and to deport members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The dispute between Qatar and its neighbors escalated last month when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha.

Syria.  Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, a member of Syria’s People’s Assembly, yesterday became the first candidate to register to run in the June 3 presidential election called by the Syrian government on Monday. While President Bashar al-Assad is expected to run and win, more than one candidate must be on the ballot. Hajjar’s registration comes as rebels in Homs are reportedly making one last stand against regime forces launching a full-fledged assault on the city. With Homs expected to fall, opposition activists are torn between fleeing, surrendering, or fighting; Abu Rami, an activist, said that, “We can lose an area, and we can regain it. But the most important thing is not to kneel.”

Meanwhile, Ahmet Uzumcu, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon (OPCW) said today that he is considering an investigation into reports of a chemical weapon attack earlier this month in the village of Kfar Zeita. On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney announced that the United States is examining allegations that the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack and said that once the facts have been established, “we can talk about what reaction, if any, or response, if any, there would be from the international community.” Syria has pledged to hand over the remaining 7.5 percent of its chemical weapons stockpile that it has declared to the OPCW by the end of this week.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Egypt. The United States plans to deliver ten Apache helicopters to Egypt, thereby easing the military aid suspension imposed after the Egyptian military overthrew President Morsi in July. U.S. defense secretary Chuck Hagel informed Egyptian defense minister Sedki Sobhi of the decision in a phone call on Tuesday, April 29. The move comes after Secretary of State John Kerry certified to Congress that Egypt met key criteria, including upholding its obligations under the peace treaty with Israel, to resume some aid.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Oman-Algeria. Hackers targeted the website of Oman’s official news agency on Sunday in an attempt to criticize the opaque environment surrounding Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s re-election last week. The hackers fabricated a news story about a letter from Sultan Qaboos of Oman to Bouteflika, describing him as a “handicapped” leader of a “dictatorship.” Oman News Agency later apologized to its clients for the hack. Last Friday, Bouteflika won a fourth term with more than 80 percent of the vote after the opposition unsuccessfully called for a general boycott of the elections. He cast his vote while sitting in a wheelchair, raising further doubts about his health status since suffering a stroke last year.

Libya. Libya’s Constituent Assembly convened on Sunday to begin drafting a new constitution in Al-Baida on Monday. The special body has 120 days to draft a constitution. Meanwhile, the Libyan Parliament heard from the seven candidates on Sunday who are looking to succeed Abdullah al-Thani in his post as prime minister after he announced his resignation on April 13. The three prospective frontrunners appear to be Omar al-Hassi, from Benghazi, Mohammad Buker, former director of the civil state department, and Ahmad Miitig, a Libyan businessman. The election date has yet to be set.

Kuwait. The Kuwaiti official news agency announced on Sunday that it had temporarily suspended publication of the Al Watan and Alam Al Yawm  newspapers for violating a prosecutor-ordered media blackout over an alleged coup plot. Waleed al-Jassim, the deputy editor of Al Watan, said that he is going to contest the ruling.

Yemen. According to a spokesperson for the Yemeni embassy in Washington yesterday, the Yemeni government will make cash payments to the families of three civilians killed in airstrikes over the weekend. The series of strikes on Sunday and Monday reportedly targeted an al Qaeda training camp and killed fifty-five militants.

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