Arab governments under pressure as popular anger at Israel grows

Devastation in Gaza revives Arab empathy with Palestinians, forcing their rulers to act

Arab governments have come under increasing popular pressure to not only condemn Israel's actions in occupied East Jerusalem but also take action to end Israel's ongoing military campaign in Gaza.

As a first step, Arabs from the Atlantic to the Gulf have demanded their governments press the US, Israel’s loyal ally, to call for an unconditional and immediate end to Israel’s air, land and sea assault on the narrow coastal strip, which is home to two million Palestinians.

Twenty-four hour satellite television images of clashes in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israel and devastation in Gaza have revived Arabs' empathy with Palestinians – if not support for their leaders – and antagonism toward Israel. Condemnation by the Arab League and the Muslim League has not assuaged Arab, or Muslim, anger.

The first Arab country to make peace with Israel, Egypt has attempted to mediate a ceasefire although Cairo is aware this could provide only a brief interruption in the 73-year-old conflict unless its causes are addressed.

Egypt negotiated ceasefires which ended Israeli-Gaza conflicts in 2008-09 and 2014 but failed to deliver Hamas's limited demand for an end to the blockade of Gaza in exchange for a long-term "hudna", or cessation of hostilities. If Egypt had succeeded, there might well have been no further major eruptions between Hamas and Israel.

Wider dimension

The current flare-up is far more difficult to resolve than previous cases as it has a wider dimension. This has been caused by Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem; clashes in al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest in Islam; and the Israeli settler drive to expropriate Palestinian homes.

Hamas is no longer the sole combatant. Young Palestinian Israelis, Jerusalemites and West Bankers have mobilised and taken to the streets with sticks and stones.

The other Arab mediator, Qatar, which has called for an end to Israeli attacks, has ties to Hamas but no relations with Israel.

The second country to sign a peace deal with Israel, Jordan, has little influence with the Israelis or the US. At the weekend, Jordan deployed security forces to prevent thousands of Jordanians from storming into the West Bank across the kingdom's border.

While Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman are relieved they resisted pressure from the Trump administration to open ties with Israel, popular Arab anger over events in Jerusalem and Gaza has stalled plans of Moroccan, Bahraini, Sudanese and Emirati rulers to implement recent normalisation agreements.

There have been mass protests in Morocco and rare opposition criticism of Bahrain's repressive rulers. Sudan had been cautious about normalisation before the crisis and is likely to proceed even more slowly than before.

In her speech to Sunday’s virtual meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, Emirati minister of state Reem Bint Ibrahim al-Hashemi represented all Arab governments by addressing not only the current crisis but also “the urgent need to start the peace process” in accordance with the 2002 Arab plan for full normalisation in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from Arab territory Israel occupied in 1967.