Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Arab Gulf States and Post-War Projects

The diverse projects of the three Arab Gulf states could lead to significant conflicts regarding internal Palestinian issues, especially concerning the future of the Palestinian Authority and the role of Hamas.

Arab Gulf States
People walk past rubble and damaged buildings in the Tuffah district east of Gaza City on July 8, 2024. Omar AL-QATTAA / AFP

Ali Noureddine

This article was translated from Arabic to English

Since the beginning of Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip, influential regional powers have increasingly felt the repercussions on their interests and strategic calculations, particularly as the scope of events has expanded to include multiple fronts.

As the situation evolved, the contours of post-war projects began to take shape, with each party making preparations in line with its role, aspirations and existing alliances.

Within the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, three states – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar – have outlined distinct and, at times, contradictory plans for the future.

The UAE and the Tense Relationship with the Palestinian Authority

In June 2024, the US website Axios leaked details of a meeting attended by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE. The meeting, held in late April 2024 in Riyadh, also included the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the PLO Hussein al-Sheikh, who is considered one of the closest figures to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The leaks, based on more than five different sources, revealed a sharp exchange of words between al-Sheikh and Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. During this incident, bin Zayed accused the Palestinian Authority of corruption and failure to implement necessary reforms. He described the Authority’s officials as “useless,” arguing that replacing one with another would not change the current outcomes. Bin Zayed concluded his criticism by questioning the feasibility of the UAE providing financial support to the Palestinian Authority under the current circumstances, in front of Blinken.

Several factors contributed to the sensitivity of this incident. The Emirati side confirmed the occurrence, while al-Sheikh refused to comment on it. This debate highlighted the lack of trust between Emirati officials and the existing Palestinian Authority, as well as their covert desire to diminish Abbas’ power and influence. The meeting, marked by controversy, aimed to discuss a joint plan for managing the Gaza Strip after the war concludes.

The Proposed Emirati Alternative: Mohammed Dahlan

The UAE has been working for years on an alternative Palestinian leader, Muhammad Dahlan. Expelled from the Fatah movement in 2011, Dahlan previously coordinated security on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip before Hamas took control in 2007. After his expulsion from Fatah, he became an adviser to the ruling Al Nahyan family in Abu Dhabi and the overseer of UAE projects related to the Palestinian issue. In 2023, Dahlan claimed to have directed over $50 million in UAE aid to Gaza.

Over the past years, Dahlan has quietly worked to re-enter the Palestinian political scene. In 2017, he pragmatically restored his relationship with Hamas despite their bloody history before 2007. Through this reconciliation, Dahlan sought to operate within Gaza through his associations and media institutions, while Hamas aimed to facilitate UAE aid and projects to mitigate the Israeli blockade. Consequently, Dahlan gradually emerged from isolation.

Since the beginning of the war on Gaza, Dahlan has intensified his media appearances, positioning himself as an influential player in Palestinian politics. He has proposed various plans for the future governance of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including the establishment of a technocratic government.

During the war, Dahlan engaged in efforts to distribute relief aid through his network of associations and groups, supported by Emirati funds. The European Council on Foreign Relations notes that Dahlan benefits from the support of armed groups funded by him which are present in several West Bank refugee camps.

The UAE believes Dahlan has the potential to play a political role in Gaza and the West Bank. He has a strong relationship with the Egyptian regime, which controls Gaza’s southern borders. Dahlan played a role in reconciling the Sisi regime and Hamas in 2017, angering Fatah at the time. Additionally, he enjoys Israeli and American acceptance due to his past role in Israeli-Palestinian security coordination in Gaza and his involvement in the Emirati-Israeli normalization deal.

Within Gaza, Dahlan maintains relations with Palestinian resistance factions, which have not opposed his aid efforts. However, his controversial background and reputation, particularly regarding his ties with the UAE and Israel, hinder his popular support. It is also unlikely that Hamas will allow him a significant role in managing Gaza post-war beyond distributing aid or mediating with Egypt, given his personal connections and ambitions that are discomforting for the Movement.

Saudi Arabia Awaits the Normalization Deal

Unlike the UAE, Saudi Arabia is not attempting to establish its own alternative within the Palestinian arena or to replace the existing Palestinian Authority with new, ambitious faces.

Instead, in all meetings held in Riyadh, Saudi officials have consistently supported and empowered the existing Palestinian Authority while subjecting it to a “reform” process. The process aims to enable the Authority to impose its control in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This vision includes replacing the Palestinian Authority with the Hamas Movement in the Gaza Strip after the war, a move that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strictly rejected thus far.

Saudi Arabia continues to link the normalization deal with Israel to steps that pave the way for the future establishment of a Palestinian state, even if such a state is not currently fully realized. In this context, Saudi Arabia is asking for Israeli recognition of the Palestinian Authority’s role and for it to be empowered to exercise broader powers in exchange for normalization.

Regarding the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the dismantling of settlements, these issues can be deferred to a later stage. While these limited steps will not achieve Palestinian sovereignty over all territories as per the 1967 borders, they will allow for the implementation of “reforms” within the Palestinian Authority once it is granted more powers.

This situation indicates that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s priority is finding a modest and limited resolution to the Palestinian issue without demanding major steps, such as achieving full sovereignty for the Palestinian Authority over its lands, before signing a normalization agreement with Israel.

For Bin Salman, a normalization agreement is necessary – after the war – to facilitate and accelerate other projects, such as the defense agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Consequently, the Saudi leadership is currently limiting its demands related to the Palestinian issue to a minimum.

Qatar: Searching for New Roles

The war in Gaza has expanded the roles of Qatari foreign policy, particularly through its close relationship with the Hamas leadership based in Doha. Despite ongoing rumors and leaks since the beginning of the war about plans for Hamas’ political bureau to leave Doha, the movement has consistently denied such reports, confirming no significant change in the Qatari regime’s relationship with Hamas.

In fact, the relationship between Qatar and Hamas has become a necessity for both the United States and Israel, as much as it is for the Palestinians. Doha has provided a crucial channel for communication and negotiation during the conflict. Consequently, Qatar is likely to politically invest in this role and continue to position itself as a key partner of the United States in the Arab region.

The war has also prompted Qatar to seek new roles in other areas, including Lebanon. In late May 2024, Lebanese Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam revealed a Qatari offer to build a 450-megawatt power plant, confirmed later by Minister of Energy and Water Walid Fayyad, who noted that parliamentary legislation was needed for the offer to proceed. This interest follows Qatar’s earlier steps in the energy sector, such as its entry as a third partner in gas exploration in Lebanese Blocks 4 and 9 in January 2023.

Alongside these investment projects, Qatar’s role in mediating internal political disputes in Lebanon has become more significant, particularly concerning the presidential election. Qatar has strong ties with one of the leading candidates for the presidency, Army Commander Joseph Aoun, who has repeatedly secured Qatari financial aid to mitigate the economic crisis’s impact on the military. This strategy enables Qatar to balance its expanding roles within Lebanon while improving relations with Hezbollah, the most influential Lebanese political party.

These diverse ambitions and projects of the three Arab Gulf states could lead to significant conflicts regarding internal Palestinian issues, especially concerning the future of the Palestinian Authority and the role of Hamas. This raises the possibility of renewed sharp disagreements within the Gulf Cooperation Council, reminiscent of past conflicts due to the divergent foreign policies of its member states.

user placeholder
written by
All Dima articles