In early 2020, talks to end the years-long Gulf diplomatic crisis came to an abrupt end.
For nearly a year, the regional divide between Qatar and a Saudi-led alliance remained at a standstill as countries focused their efforts on tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
But earlier this month, reports of a potential agreement to resolve the dispute raised questions about what a preliminary agreement would imply and what exactly.
Reconciliation reports precede an upcoming GCC Summit, which is due to meet in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on January 5.
The reports come nearly four years after an air, land and sea blockade was imposed on Qatar by other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain as well as Egypt not a member of the GCC.
The four Arab countries claimed that the blockade, which began on June 5, 2017, was imposed on Qatar for “supporting terrorism” and for being too close to Iran, among others.
Qatar has repeatedly denied the allegations and said there was “no legitimate justification” for severing relations and accused its neighbors of attacking its sovereignty.
The blockade quartet also released a list of 13 demands, including the shutdown of the Al Jazeera media network as well as a Turkish military base, which Qatar quickly rejected.
Earlier this month, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said a resolution was in sight, with the four governments behind the blockade “on board” and a final deal expected shortly.
The GCC claims that the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was guest at the top of next month.
Analysts say different players are approaching the crisis differently, but Riyadh has stood out as the one pushing for a resolution as it seeks to tone down criticism from US President-elect Joe Biden.
“Of the states blocking the blockade, Saudi Arabia is probably the most under pressure to soften its stance against Qatar, especially as the kingdom is concerned about potential challenges for Washington in the post-Trump era,” Giorgio Cafiero, CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington, DC-based consulting firm, told Al Jazeera.
The kingdom’s efforts are also in line with the outgoing administration of US President Donald Trump, which is trying to “score diplomatic gain” in the Gulf, Cafiero said.
Mahjoob Zweiri, director of the Gulf Studies Center at the University of Qatar, agrees.
“There is an interest in the White House to have a feat, especially when it comes to Saudi Arabia,” Zweiri told Al Jazeera.
Likewise, Jocelyn Sage Mitchell, assistant professor at Northwestern University in Qatar, said Saudi Arabia was aware that the Biden administration “will rebalance US foreign policy in the region”.
The incoming administration is likely to focus on “the close ally relationship between the United States and Qatar, given American economic, military and educational interests in the country,” Mitchell told Al Jazeera.
Other reasons as to why the latest reconciliation efforts can be considered more serious than previous attempts are the economic impact caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Mitchel said, especially the impact it has had on ” the Saudi oil industry ”.
Likewise, a reconciliation would help Qatar by allowing it to transport the necessary equipment for the upcoming FIFA World Cup across the Saudi land border, she said.
Any incoming deal, however, will not take the form of a comprehensive deal – but rather a set of principles for the negotiations or a more concrete step involving the reopening of airspace in Qatar, sources said. close to the negotiations.
While Kuwait and Oman – two GCC states that have not joined the boycotting states – welcomed the latest efforts to reach an agreement, other blockaded countries appear less inclined to join. Saudi Arabia – in particular the United Arab Emirates.
“The UAE has its own agenda and has signaled a much harder line,” Mitchell said.
Cafiero also said the UAE was probably “the least willing to compromise in any real or meaningful way regarding this feud with Qatar”.
If Saudi Arabia decides to take steps to soften its stance, the anti-Qatar bloc will essentially start to “crack,” he said.
Zweiri also noted that the course of the crisis will change if Riyadh decides to “act independently” from Abu Dhabi.
“As soon as that happens, it’s a breakthrough in solving some of the issues related to the crisis,” he said, but the issues will focus on the airspace while “other things may to arrive gradually and slowly ”.
The “ root causes ” remain
Doha said it would be willing to compromise with its neighbors, but argued its sovereignty was a red line. He is in a strong negotiating position and any concessions he makes “won’t include anything of importance,” Mitchel said.
“The fact is that the international community has not embraced the reasons given for this crisis, and the blockade has been widely viewed as a strategic failure by all analyzes,” she said.
But analysts are skeptical about whether a deal will be reached at the next GCC summit on January 5, even though relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar appear to be progressing.
“The need for countries blocking the blockade to save face may prevent a speedy resolution,” said Mitchel, adding that an important aspect of this is whether the UAE chooses to “bend its hard line”.
Zweiri and Cafiero believe that any deal will not have a lasting impact if the “root causes” of the dispute are not addressed.
“The root causes of the GCC crisis that erupted in 2017 will continue to fuel tensions” between Qatar and its neighbors, Cafiero said.
Zweiri agreed, identifying the main root cause as “a huge difference in foreign policy” which will likely stay and maintain the current state of affairs.
“It could be just another summit … we have to see who will represent Qatar at the top,” he said.
A primary indicator of lasting reconciliation will also be reflected in a “more coordinated stance” of GCC member states on issues such as the war in Yemen, Zweiri said.
“[If there is a reconciliation] they should be more coordinated than divided, ”he added.
And while reconciliation may seem imminent at the diplomatic level, there will be “tensions between Qatari companies and the blockade-blocking states that will continue into the future,” Cafiero said.