Whither the Arab World from What is Happening in Gaza?

Israel’s war on Gaza has recently entered its sixth straight month with no respite or apparent possibility of a permanent ceasefire that could spare the lives of Palestinians in the Strip. Health authorities there have reported close to 32,000 killed and over 74,000 injured as the number of those dying from malnutrition and hunger is steadily increasing, especially among children. The United Nations Human Rights Office has recently declared that restricting the entry of aid into Gaza and continuing military operations “may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which is a war crime.” Last January, the office issued a report that painted no less than a catastrophic picture in the Strip about a population that is being intentionally made to starve and live without shelter or services and a physical environment that has been destroyed in wholesale fashion.

And yet, the Arab world appears oblivious to what is happening in Gaza as its governments and leaders continue to avoid taking necessary, indeed required, steps to force a halt to Israel’s genocidal policies and practices. While some have been more involved and interested in the plight of Palestinians than others, their actions given the devastating nature of the war can be chalked up to just a little more than protestations and appeals to purported moral standards that Israel has time and again ignored upholding. Arab regimes’ acquiescence to the American monopoly on plans to address the war and acceptance of demagogic declarations from Washington about concerns regarding its conduct speak of incurable weakness and dependence that prevent any decisive action on their part.

In that, Arab regimes have been so unrepresentative of their populations’ opinions of the Palestine question, the ongoing war, and the United States’ handling of it, and unresponsive to their desire to protect the Palestinians. In their mild, indeed placid, reaction to the five-month war on Gaza, Arab regimes appear oblivious to what a recent survey on the war conducted by the Arab Center Washington DC and the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in 16 Arab countries revealed of the Arab public’s true sentiments about goings-on in the Strip.

The survey has shown that an overwhelming majority of Arabs, 92 percent, consider the Palestine question to concern all Arabs and not only the Palestinians. This generally has been the case since the first time the survey was conducted in 2011. Majorities also reject diplomatic relations with Israel and call for rescinding the normalization agreements with the Zionist state, even in those countries that have signed them as part of the so-called Abraham Accords. Additionally, a majority of respondents, 94 percent, judged the American position on the war to be bad or very bad, and 81 percent think that the United States is not truly committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Incidentally, similarly large majorities judged the positions of France (79 percent), Germany (75 percent), and the United Kingdom (78 percent) as unacceptable.

Three specific and focal issues expose the degree of Arab regimes’ supineness vis-à-vis Israel’s documented genocidal war on Gaza: fast approaching starvation, the siege of Rafah, and Israel’s refusal to agree to a ceasefire in the war.

An Integrated Food Security Phase Classification report has just highlighted the disastrous and assured possibility—if current conditions of Israel’s siege persist—of famine between now and May for some 300,000 people in northern Gaza. Another 1.1 million Gazans have exhausted what is required of supplies to prevent starvation and malnutrition. The southern governorates of the Strip—Deir al-Balah, Khan Younis, and Rafah—are at risk of slipping into famine conditions by July 2024. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres minced no words describing this situation as “man-made” and called on Israel to lift its restrictions on the delivery of aid. Cindy McCain, the Executive Director of the World Food Program, spoke of people starving to death in Gaza at terrifying speed. Last February, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused Israel of intentionally blocking aid in violation of the International Court of Justice’s demand that it does not. The Biden administration and European countries have also been warning about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Strip, with not much change in Israel’s behavior.

Rafah is currently under siege by Israeli forces and threatened with invasion. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that a plan is already in place for an attack on the city—home to some 1.4 million displaced Palestinians seeking shelter—to bring final defeat to Hamas. Following discussions with US President Joe Biden, Netanyahu appears to have relented to allow an Israeli delegation to come to Washington for talks about possible scenarios that can spare civilian life in Rafah. But considering how Netanyahu and his rightwing government have conducted their war on Gaza so far, no one should hope that the administration—that has practically given Israel carte blanche to do what it desires there—will be able to dissuade him from pursuing his campaign there with disregard to the optics of a massacre against untold numbers of civilians.

Except for a series of one-day truces last November during which Hamas exchanged Israeli captives for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, talks about securing even a temporary ceasefire in Gaza have failed because of Israel’s insistence on realizing its ultimate goal of defeating Hamas. The latest rounds of negotiations led by the United States, Qatar, and Egypt have failed following the imposition of serious mutual conditions by Hamas and Israel before a six-week respite—an unreasonable and illogical period—can be announced. Even if a ceasefire were to be agreed—a remote possibility given the maximalist Israeli conditions for it—Israel would still continue to occupy the Gaza Strip, restrict the entry of desperately needed humanitarian assistance, threaten to expel the Strip’s inhabitants, and deny their national rights.

In all of these essential issues, the Arab political order appears to be a marginal actor, unable to influence events and developments in ways that might impose even a fleeting balance of power that can aid Gaza’s Palestinians in their unbalanced match with the Israeli war machine. Arab countries have even failed to arrest the ongoing starvation of Palestinians in Gaza. Instead, the Arab official position by and large has ceded whatever potential influence it has to what the Biden administration may be able to secure from Israel, led and controlled by a rightwing government bent on realizing what it considers to be a messianic vision of Israeli supremacy. Indeed, the Gaza war has again shown the Palestinians that only they can be the defenders of their cause and that self-reliance and national unity continue to be the right way forward for realizing their inalienable rights and achieving their independence.

The views expressed in this publication are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab Center Washington DC, its staff, or its Board of Directors.