Middle EastAnalysis

Arab-Islamic summit on Gaza highlights gulf between rulers and citizens

Failure to agree concrete measures undermines Arab and Muslim regimes’ credibility

The message delivered by the joint Arab-Islamic emergency summit in Saudi Arabia last weekend is unlikely to encourage the United States to press Israel to halt the carnage in Gaza or satisfy the demand of millions of Arabs and Muslims for sanctions on Israel and its partners.

Attended by leaders of the 22-member Arab League and 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the summit in Riyadh came too late in the Gaza war and achieved little or nothing. It took place more than a month after Hamas fighters killed about 1,200 people in a cross-border raid that prompted Israel to attack Gaza and kill more than 11,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

While condemning Israel, the summit called for an immediate ceasefire, release of 240 Israeli captives held by Hamas and ending arms supplies to Israel. The leaders urged the International Criminal Court to investigate possible Israeli war crimes and the United Nations Security Council to end the war.

While the summit proposed breaking Israel’s siege on Gaza, no steps were suggested for achieving this objective. Instead, Arab and Muslim states vowed to send food and medicine to Egypt, from where supplies will be delivered to Gaza though the Rafah crossing.


The summit’s failure to agree on concrete measures undermines Arab and Muslim credibility in the West and turns Arabs and Muslims against already unpopular governments. There are, however, few options for effective action.

Arming the Palestinians, disrupting oil supplies, and cutting all relations with Israel were suggested. These measures, tried previously, are no longer viable.

Israel controls everything entering the occupied Palestinian territories, while the US and Europe do not rely on regional oil exports. This was the case in October 1973 when Arab oil producers enforced an embargo on states supporting Israel, notably the US, UK, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands.

Arab leaders refused to renounce ties to Israel, and Jordan and Egypt have not agreed to alter their peace treaties with Israel. Jordan has cut diplomatic relations, Egypt has not.

Of four Arab countries that have normalised relations with Israel, Bahrain has withdrawn its ambassador and halted trade, whereas the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and war-ravaged Sudan have not.

Arab and Muslim rulers remain at odds with their citizens who have been angered, frustrated and horrified by media images of devastated Gaza neighbourhoods and dead and dying Gazans. Pro-Palestinian protests have been as much against governments as against Israel and the US.

Suspending ties with the US is favoured by many Arabs and Muslims who blame the US for encouraging and protecting rather than reining in Israel during its unrelenting war on Gaza.

“In their support for Israel’s brutal bombardment in Gaza, Western powers and media have shown their true colours of hypocrisy and racism. The reverberations will be felt across the Arab and Muslim world,” Khaled al-Hroub wrote on the London-based New Arab website.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times