Wars, as we know, are catalysts for change, and the current round of fighting between Hamas and Israel is no exception. Two trends, which have become very noticeable in the region in recent years, are being accelerated these days and create the likelihood, never a certainty in the shifty and muddy sands of Middle East politics, of a strategic realignment of the regional political map.
These trends are interconnected, and the first is the creation of two new poles of power in the Sunni-Muslim world, one based on Turkey and Qatar, the other on Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The second is the fact that Israel, traditionally the pariah state of the region, the bogey man of Middle East politics, is slowly and gradually becoming a legitimate regional actor, one which is receiving political support by Arabs, even during a very violent campaign against another Arab actor.
This is a major change, with possible far-reaching implications.
The fact that these trends are so much on display exactly when there is another round of Palestinian-Israeli hostilities DOES NOT support the old-standing and still very wrong view of many in the West, that it is the Palestinian issue which is at the core of the Middle East chronic instability. In fact, the current events do show yet again, that this is a problem being used, in fact manipulated by various Arab and other regional actors in order to promote and support agendas other than the Palestinian issue.
Qatar did not suddenly discover the importance of this issue, and with it an enthusiastic desire to help Hamas, nor did it develop an uncontrollable urge to spread the doctrines of the Muslim Brotherhood[the mother movement of Hamas]. The support for the terrorists in Gaza which brings havoc and spells disaster to the suffering Palestinian civilians costs the rich Sheikhs in the desert billions of dollars which for them is pocket money, and they continue to enjoy the good life while others pay the price.
It is NOT about the Palestinians really, whom the Qataris do not care about, it is about the desire to challenge Saudi-Arabia's dominant position in the Arab side of the Gulf. Yes, the Qataris have money and Al-Jazeera , but this is all a house of cards. Small local population which exploits many more foreign workers than its entire original population, a weak sheikdom which tries to play in the field of the big guys, but may very well find out that playing with fire is a risky business. It starts in Gaza and can very quickly spread to Doha, a sheikdom whose prosperity and existence depend on stability cannot , for its own good , become the hub of regional intrigues and conflict.
Nor can Turkey under the fiery P.M , Erdoghan play that role. The Turkish leader is becoming somewhat of a rabble-rouser with his blatant anti-Semitic attacks on Israel [Israel is 100 times worse than Hitler!....]. He has two problems which he cannot overcome, no matter how loud and acrimonious he is against Israel. He is a Turk, not an Arab, and most Arabs do not like outside patronage, even if couched in anti-Israel rhetoric. All he has to do is to ask his Iranian neighbors, with whom he has love-hate relationships. They are not so popular in the Arab Middle East, surely because they are Shi'ites, but ALSO because they are Ajamis [the Arab derogatory term for Persians].
So, the Turkish-Qatar axis is inherently precarious, something that may have escaped the attention of some in the Obama Administration, who seem to be fascinated with it. They are wrong about that, and in recent days they got some amazing reminders about that.
First, it was the Palestinian Authority[PA], which officially condemned the American-Qatari-Turkish Paris meeting about Gaza. It is a basic rule of Arab politics-do not insult those who are directly involved in conflicts. Mahmoud Abbas is insulted, he is angry and rightly so. The Egyptians were insulted before, and now they are beyond that stage. They are in the stage of reacting to the insults. Any review of their policy with regard to Gaza indicates that while the rhetoric is also about the suffering of the Palestinian civilians, the bulk of it is against Hamas and surely Egyptian actions , whether subtly coordinated with Israel or not, are in compliance with the Israeli interest. It is interest that drives Egypt's policy, not any sudden burst of sentimental Support for Zionism... and common interest is a significant factor. It exists also because Egypt rejects any Turkish pretension for patronage of Arab causes, a sense which is nothing new in Egyptian political culture and history. It is also a well-established theme in Egyptian policy-making NOT to be seen as if being led by the junior brothers from the desert.
It is also interest, which drives Saudi-Arabia, the disdain with which the heirs of the Wahhabis view Turkish ambition to become yet again the leader of Sunni Islam, the utmost disrespect towards a small Sheikdom which pretends to call the shots and above all the fear from Iran. So, the Saudis may not be so vocal in their opposition to Hamas, but they are really angry and concerned. Saudis, including members of the Royal family are growing vocal in expressing sympathy positive views about Israel.
That said, the Israelis should be constantly reminded that there is a day after, and if there is ANY chance for a more stable realignment in the Middle East, not just a temporary one, they will have to work with Abbas, and that means concessions.
Too early now, as Hamas still clings to power in Gaza, but that may not last for too long either. Hamas is defeated, though not enough, and Israel, Abbas, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and others should plan for the very near future. The Obama administration will be a welcome addition...