America’s indifference on Gaza creates watershed moment in Arab-US ties
No one knows how Israel’s war on Gaza, which is now in its second month, will end and what the final civilian death toll will be. But when the guns finally go silent and the dust settles, the Middle East and indeed the rest of the world will wake up to a new reality. Whatever happens to Hamas will mean little compared to the human cost already endured: more than 10,000 deaths, almost half being women and children, and more than 25,000 injured. The level of destruction is beyond description, not seen anywhere since the Second World War.
Most of Gaza has been turned into a wasteland and no one knows if Gazans will ever be allowed to return to their bombed-out homes to resume whatever is left of their miserable and tragic lives.
But beyond the humanitarian fallout, which will linger for years, there will be multiple political accounts that need to be settled. In the eye of the storm will be the future of US-Arab ties and where the shaky alliance with the West will go from here.
In Amman last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the foreign ministers of five key Arab countries, in addition to a Palestinian Authority representative. They all called on the US to accept the need for an immediate ceasefire and to allow the unfettered delivery of much-needed humanitarian supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip, now a disaster zone. Instead, Blinken rebuffed their calls and repeated the now overused statement that Israel has the right to defend itself and that any truce would favor Hamas. He pretended to sympathize with Palestinian civilian losses, urging Israel to abide by the rules of war — whatever that means — and tossed the Arab world a bone: a commitment to a two-state solution. In short, the US took Israel’s side completely and ignored the pleas of its Arab allies.
Even though Blinken said he supported humanitarian pauses, none have come into effect so far. Israel’s pummeling of the entire Gaza Strip has only picked up pace, targeting fleeing civilians, hospitals, ambulances, civil defense and medical workers, and journalists. The carnage went on as Blinken continued to warn against expanding the conflict beyond Gaza.
This complete indifference to the Arab point of view, which has nothing to do with defending Hamas but is centered on protecting civilians and ensuring humanitarian assistance, has become a watershed moment in US-Arab ties. Washington could not care less for the sentiments of millions of Arabs, or those of millions of people all over the world. It has unabashedly taken the side of Israel, even when the war violates all definitions of self-defense and all the scopes of international laws and conventions.
Even though Blinken said he supported humanitarian pauses, none have come into effect so far.
And when Arab diplomats pointed to the escalating situation in the West Bank, where Israeli soldiers and radical settlers are shooting and terrorizing Palestinians, all Blinken could do was to ask Israel to do something about the spiraling violence and then say that he was assured that something would be done.
The level of public rage against the US position on the war in the Arab world must not be ignored. It is putting Arab governments under pressure. It is shaking the foundations of the alliance between the US and its Arab partners.
The chasm between these allies and Washington could expand depending on the outcome of Israel’s war on Gaza. A forced displacement of millions of Palestinians into Egypt would bring that relationship to the brink, leaving Cairo and Amman in a tough and precarious position. Jordan has already said that such forced displacement would be considered a declaration of war. No one knows, not even the US, how far Israel will go with its current military campaign. And it is now clear that the Biden administration does not have the leverage to stop Israel from going as far as pushing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into the Sinai desert.
The final outcome of the war on Gaza could push relations with Washington to a breaking point. No Arab country can take the risk of abandoning the Palestinian cause. In fact, the events following Oct. 7 have proven — for Israel, the Arabs and the rest of the world — that ignoring the strife of Palestinians will keep the region on edge and will not bring peace and security to Israel.
President Joe Biden and Blinken are yet to say what Arab leaders need to hear: that, following this horrific round of violence, the US will make amends by addressing the core of the region’s troubles — the Palestinian issue. The problem is that, even if they do deliver such assurances, few will take them seriously.
The level of public rage against the US position on the war in the Arab world must not be ignored.
For more than 30 years, the US has taken hold of the so-called peace process, whose aim was to deliver a two-state solution. But Washington has failed to play the role of an honest broker. It has looked the other way while an extremist Israel grabbed more Palestinian lands, demolished Palestinians’ homes, empowered Jewish settlers, marginalized the Palestinian Authority and enforced an illegal siege on Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants. The US ignored warnings by its Arab allies that the region was at a boiling point and that, unless the Palestinian issue was resolved in a just way, chaos would erupt. And that is exactly what is happening now.
No more US assurances will suffice. The US monopoly of the so-called peace process has to end. Israel’s impunity must also end. Israel’s war on Gaza and its collective punishment of Palestinians ahead of possible ethnic cleansing must be addressed and cannot be ignored. The fact that Israel has committed multiple war crimes in Gaza cannot be swept under the carpet. The entire rules-based world order is about to keel over as a result of Western complicity and its application of double standards.
What is immediately needed following the war is to have an international peace conference, in which Russia, China, the Arab region and the rest of the Global South play a key role. The US cannot be trusted to chair, on its own, another round of peace talks that ends up buying time for Israel to complete its usurpation of whatever is left of Palestinian land. The two-state solution was declared dead a long time ago thanks to Israel’s policy of colonizing the West Bank while forcing millions of Palestinians in Gaza into another Nakba.
Israel’s right to exist has been enshrined in peace treaties and in the Arab Peace Initiative. But this is not a blank check that can be cashed at the teller at the expense of millions of Palestinians, who have the right to self-determination and a state of their own. The war on Gaza has brought us to the moment of truth: Israel wants to liquidate the Palestinian issue once and for all and let the region pick up the tab. That will not happen and the US must not allow it to happen. The US is not an honest broker and the Arab world cannot allow it to continue to buy time for Israel as it embarks on a pernicious scheme to normalize the occupation and dispose of millions of Palestinians.
America’s Arab allies need to send a stern message to the US that choosing Israel, no matter what it does, over its allies and their genuine interests can no longer continue.
• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator in Amman. X: @plato010