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30 September 2009 10:53 am

Key role for Qatar seen in peace bid

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Qatar, with its Increasing economic power, could play a bigger role in getting the Arab world to “signal” measured steps with Israel over the Palestinian issue, according to a top political analyst. Alastair Newton, managing director and senior political analyst with Nomura International, spoke to Gulf Times on the sidelines of the ‘Doha Business Roundtable’. “Qatar, despite being relatively small, has played and continues to play a very important role in the Middle East in diplomacy. Overall, I will say Qatar has got to be proud in its polity and look at big issues outside of its country,” Newton said. Qatar had pledged $250mn to the Fund for Gaza and another $40mn to the UN’s humanitarian agencies in charge of providing urgent assistance to the Gaza Strip. The growing economic importance of states such as Qatar had earned them additional political influence in geopolitical issues, Newton said. He said Qatar’s role in diplomacy was evidenced from the peace deal it brokered in Lebanon, which remained critical to that country despite the current uncertainties in Beirut’s polity and difficulties in forming a government. Qatar had close friends in the West and in the region and increasingly close links with Asia, enabling it to play an important role in the Middle East peace process, he said. By and large the consensus was that the dialogue between the US and Israel had not moved Israel towards US President Barack Obama’s stated objectives on settlements, he said, adding that Israelis were making certain demands which were not consistent with Washington’s goals. Qatar had reiterated its opposition to the illegal construction of new Israeli settlements and asserted recently at the UN that a lasting and just peace could not be achieved unless the UN resolutions and the Arab peace initiative were implemented based on the ‘land for peace’ principle. “It would be extremely helpful if the Arab world could find some way of sending signals, not necessarily taking steps, of its willingness to move step by step with Israel,” Newton said. He said Qatar could help in that process. “I am not suggesting there should be compromise immediately but there should be a statement of intent to move forward together,” he said. On the political risks for Qatar, Newton said he found two risks that were exogenous to the country, whose gas-rich economy was expected to do well. Referring to the nuclear ambitions of Iran, he said one could not rule out the possibility that Israel could at some point, maybe next year, intervene militarily against Tehran’s nuclear programme. “We should not overestimate the risk of that happening nor should we underestimate it,” he said, adding the present dispensation in Washington had been directly engaging with Iran unlike the previous administration. On the second political risk, he said Al Qaeda had secured a foothold in Yemen and Somalia. Referring to the assassination attempt on Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Interior Minister Mohamed bin Nayef, Newton said it demonstrated Al Qaeda “poses a viable threat to countries across the region, particularly to those having good relations with the West, and I think Qatar will be well aware of that risk.” http://gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=317415&version=1&template_id=36&parent_id=16