Kuwait has remained cautious in taking a position on normalisation with Israel after the issue was brought back into the spotlight by the UAE’s dramatic move towards full normalisation.
Kuwaiti authorities using unattributed leaks to avoid committing themselves.
The prevailing atmosphere inside the Kuwaiti National Assembly is against normalising relations with Israel, as expressed clearly and repeatedly by the majority of its members. The Kuwaiti government, for its part, has resorted to leaking signs that it agrees with that position.
Resorting to leaks gives the government a wider margin for manoeuvring on the issue. Leaks do not express an official position that can be counted on in managing diplomatic relations and preserve the government’s ability to distance itself from them and switch positions if needed.
For Kuwait, the need to change positions could come from potential enormous pressure from the administration of US President Donald Trump to normalise relations with Israel. The issue has vital importance for the sitting American president, who is looking for diplomatic achievements to beef up his list of accomplishments as he runs for a second term this November.
Kuwait has yet to take an official stance on the Emirati normalisation move, and “government sources” simply told local newspaper Al-Qabas that the country “remains on its position and will be the last country to normalise with Israel.”
The same method of quoting unidentified “sources” was used to formulate a stance on the first direct commercial air flight between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi, with Kuwaiti government sources confirming that the Israeli air force will never be allowed to use Kuwaiti airspace to reach the UAE.
Al-Qabas again quoted in its Tuesday editions “government sources” as saying that the flight path of the direct commercial flight from Israel to the Emirates does not go through Kuwaiti airspace, indicating that rumours about the prospect of Israeli aircraft being allowed to cross Kuwaiti airspace to reach the Emirates were completely untrue.
The El Al flight, which departed on Monday from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport with a joint American-Israeli delegation on board, led by the US president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner on the American side, and Meir Ben Shabat, head of the Israeli National Security Council, on the Israeli side, followed a flight path that took it through Saudi airspace over the Saudi capital Riyadh, before landing at the Presidential Airport in Abu Dhabi.
Observers considered Saudi authorities’ decision to let the plane fly over Saudi territory as a way of “softening” the kingdom’s official position rejecting normalisation for the time being and linking it to progress in the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Bahrain, for its part, has not departed from the Saudi position. Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa affirmed last Wednesday to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Manama during his recent tour of the region, his country’s commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative, which stipulates the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as a precondition for normalising relations with Israel.
On Tuesday, the Bahraini monarch reiterated to Kushner that stability in the Gulf region depends on “the big sister, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” Kushner is currently touring the Gulf states, which several sources said was part of American efforts to bring those countries closer to Israel.
Observers believe that countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar cannot formulate their stance on normalising relations with Israel without taking into account the position of the US administration and the pressure it can exert on them, especially as Trump’s administration has frequently pressured other allies, including major Western capitals, when pushing them to side with it on specific issues and files.
However, sources familiar with Gulf affairs said Trump’s mood is different on the issue of normalising relations between the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Israel, and that his administration does not intend to pressure those countries to follow in the footsteps of the UAE, instead preferring to continue trying to convince them of usefulness of such a step, given that Washington has other vital interests with these countries.
In Kuwait’s case, taking a stance on the issue of normalising relations is a much more delicate affair than for other Gulf countries. The government needs to take into account Kuwait’s vital relationship with the United States while at the same time avoid the pressure coming from the Kuwaiti parliament, which has the power to monitor the government and control its policies and positions by holding hearings and even dismissing members of the government.
Following the UAE’s decision to normalise relations with Israel, forty-one members of the Kuwaiti parliament issued a statement rejecting the move and reaffirming support for the Palestinian cause. Washington seems to understand the position of its Gulf ally and is avoiding embarrassing it. This was confirmed earlier by US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker, who denied that his country would exert any pressure on Kuwait to normalise relations with Israel.
“There is no pressure on Kuwait to normalise with Israel,” Schenker said during a press conference, adding, “The Gulf states are independent, have the freedom of decision-making, and have different stances towards normalisation with Israel.”