Evaluating Regional Governments’ Reactions to the Gaza Conflict

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

By Medlir Mema
Fellow, Middle East Policy Council


After more than a week of fighting, Israeli forces and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip agreed to a cease-fire. With tens of thousands of displaced Gazans, thousands injured, and more than 200 dead, the cause of the violence is likely to remain a hotly debated topic. At the same time, one emerging theme in the editorial and op-ed pages from across the region is the role played by Arab countries and others in mitigating the crisis and speaking out against Israel’s heavy-handed actions.

Recognizing the importance of regional support, just this week the head of Hamas’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, sent a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader asking for Iran’s support and ‘urgent action to end Israel’s crimes in Palestine’. Iran’s involvement is unlikely to be welcomed by others in the region, but, according to Press TV, the Hamas official was keen to get the support of Iran and others in order to get enough international support to stop Israel “from continuing its brutal crimes against the Palestinian people and their land and sanctities in the occupied city of al-Quds, especially the Holy al-Aqsa Mosque….” The new letter followed a Tuesday letter by Haniyeh to the Leader of the Islamic Revolution in which the Palestinian official said “Israel’s continued acts of aggression against the Palestinian people and their sanctities necessitated a firm response from the resistance movement in Gaza, calling for joint global efforts to end the regime’s atrocities against the Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied territories.”

What role did Arab countries and others in the region play during the crisis?

Haniyeh’s letter raises important questions about the nature of the support and the content of the statements of others in the region. The evidence points to a number of strongly worded pronouncements condemning the violence. For example, Arab News’ Ephrem Kossaify notes that Saudi Arabia just this week at the UN characterized the “continued Israeli aggressions against the rights of the Palestinian people [as] a dangerous violation of international law… Speaking at an emergency in-person meeting of the UN General Assembly, Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that the escalating situation between Israel and Palestine violates the ‘UN charter, which provides for the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force and bans any threat to international peace, security and stability’…. He added that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) members reject and condemn ‘continued Israeli occupation of the occupied Palestinian land including East Jerusalem and the establishment of an apartheid regime through building settlements.’”

King Abdullah of Jordan was also very keen to underscore his ongoing support for and engagement in favor of a long-term “political solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” which, according to this Jordan Times editorial, lies at the heart of the “instability in the region. During talks held via teleconference with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, King Abdullah stressed the need to put an end to recurring Israeli violations and provocations, which have led to the current escalation and exacerbated conditions…. His Majesty has repeatedly warned against the repercussions of Israeli violations in Jerusalem, especially against Al Aqsa Mosque/Al Haram Al Sharif, as well as the illegal measures to forcibly displace the families of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood from their homes. In regional and international arenas, Jordan has constantly reaffirmed the centrality of the Palestinian cause and the urgency of continuing to strive towards achieving a just and comprehensive peace, accepted by all peoples and in accordance with international law and UN resolutions.”

The UAE’s main daily, Gulf News, also leads with an editorial reflecting on a statement delivered by Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, in which he stresses that “the UAE is alarmed by the escalating spiral of violence in Israel and Palestine,” adding that the UAE calls on all parties ‘to take immediate steps to commit to a ceasefire, initiate a political dialogue, and exercise maximum restraint’…. The sad reality is that we have been here before so often over the past decades, and there is an inevitability that both saddens and disheartens even the keenest of observers. Seven years ago, Gazans endured similar hardship.”

Heavily involved in the negotiations for the ceasefire agreement, Egyptian government officials were keen to provide regular updates reported by Al Ahram regarding Egypt’s crucial role in those discussions, while emphasizing Egypt’s work with other countries to jumpstart the talks between Israel and Palestine: “[Egyptian FM] Shoukry received Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmed in Cairo on Thursday to discuss the latest developments in the Palestinian territories as the Israeli aggression continues for the 11th consecutive day. During the meeting, Minister Shoukry reviewed the efforts Egypt is making at all levels to contain the escalation…. Egypt, alongside Jordan, France and Germany, formed in February 2020 a quartet group, dubbed ‘the Munich Committee,’ to revive the halted peace negotiations to push ahead with reaching the two-state solution and establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital based on the borders of 1967.”

How was their involvement perceived?

Despite attempts to underscore their involvement, and expressing concern for the violence and suffering in Gaza, the response of many countries was perceived as either too little too late, insufficiently robust, or, as in the case of Hezbollah, unwelcome. In a strongly worded op-ed published by the Turkish Daily Sabah, Burhanettin Duran poses an important question:  “Who’s responsible for the situation in Palestine?” The answer reveals long-standing concerns about the plight of the Palestinian people. Among others, Duran singles out “The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its members, who seemed to have forgotten that it was established over Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as the Arab regimes and the region’s leading nations. The Palestinian leadership, for failing to form a united front, even when the oppression becomes more intense.”

In an Arab News op-ed, reacting prior to the announced ceasefire to reports that Hezbollah was considering engaging Israel, and thereby forcing it to fight on two fronts at the same time, Lebanese analyst Dania Koleilat Khatib bluntly suggests that “The best way Hezbollah can help Palestine is to stay away…. Israel needs a confrontation with Hezbollah to overshadow the Palestinian narrative and frame itself as the victim. This would also give Netanyahu an opportunity to justify Israel’s brutality against Gaza and garner international support. Internally, he would hype up the fear to rally the increasingly ideological population around him. Iran and Hezbollah, if they are truly honest about supporting the Palestinian people, should leave them alone, as any intervention would destroy the moral high ground the Palestinians have developed in the eyes of the Western world. They would shift the discourse back from the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom to Israel’s right to self-defense.”

The criticism is not limited only to a perceived belated response to or unwanted involvement in the Gaza crisis. Tariq Al-Homayed, a Saudi journalist and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, insists that Arab leaders must have the courage to also single out Hamas, whose recklessness, according to Al-Homayed, is endangering the Palestinian cause: “Yes, we are facing an Arab oversight in developments in Gaza. The Arabs should not only be condemning the Israeli aggression; much more is needed. What is required is the condemnation of Hamas as well like the well-known Saudi statement in the 2006 Lebanon war. It must be issued through the Arab League…. If the Arabs condemned the “adventures of Hamas” as well as Israel, many things would have changed. It is unreasonable to repeat the same mistakes and absurdities and to trade in Palestinian blood…. We say that the Hamas adventure must be condemned, because this is not a Palestinian war, but rather a war of narrow calculations, which seeks strategic gains instead of field victory.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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