A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Silence of the Arab Regimes

The New York Times has taken note of a phenomenon I had been planning to talk about soon anyway, so I'll use their piece as a takeoff point for my own comments: "Arab Leaders Silent, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel."

As Israel's current operation in Gaza grows into something much longer and deadlier than Cast Lead six years ago, there has been much international condemnation, from Europe, the UN, and human rights groups. The US is less critical and the US Congress openly supportive (and the US is resupplying Israel with munitions in the midst of the operation), but there has been considerable criticism in the media and academia.

But two sources of pressure that helped bring previous Gaza interventions to a ceasefire are absent here. First, domestic support in Israel is higher than in some previous interventions, with polls showing overwhelming support among Israeli Jews, and Israeli peace activists increasingly facing confrontations with supporters of the war.

But even more striking is the fact that, while there has been much sympathy expressed toward Gaza in the Arab "street," the Arab regimes have been mostly silent. Egypt did make a ceasefire proposal early on, which Israel accepted (and which some suspect was negotiated beforehand) and Hamas rejected. But after the Hamas rejection, Egypt essentially washed its hands of the situation. And Egypt, of course, shares a border with Gaza, and by keeping the Rafah crossing closed, is complicit, at the very least, with maintaining the siege of Gaza. It allows humanitarian supplies in, but doesn't allow those under bombardment out.

The other country with diplomatic relations with Israel, Jordan, is also part of the broad Sunni alliance that opposes the Muslim Brotherhood, and which also includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At least there is evidence that the Jordanian street (with its substantial Palestinian component) is restive and supportive of Gaza civilians, if not Hamas.

The Egyptian "street" is another matter. Some of Egypt's talk-show hosts have been so virulently anti-Hamas that Israel has been quoting them in propaganda broadcasts into Gaza. Though Field Marshal Sisi rose to power under the Morsi Presidency, he and his supporters have vowed to crush the Muslim Brotherhood, and of course, Hamas was formed from the Gaza branch. And most indications are that the sentiment is widely shared among secular Egyptians.

With Egypt, Jordan, the Saudis and the UAE forming a solid front against Hamas, and Libya, Syria, and Iraq preoccupied with other matters, Hamas has few friends: Qatar, Iran and Hizbullah, and the latter two are tied down in Syria and Iraq. Whereas the Hamas leadership in exile were once welcomed in ‘Amman, and after that in Damascus, today they are stuck in distant Doha.

I have left out one Arab regime: the Palestinian Authority. Despite the recent reconciliation between Hamas and the PLO under Mahmoud ‘Abbas, and very vocal criticisms by ‘Abbas, and threats to take Israel to the International Criminal Court,the Palestinian Security Forces kept the West Bank largely quiet during the first two weeks of the campaign. Only in the last ten days or so have demonstrations in the West Bank led to open clashes, but ‘Abbas has largely kept the West Bank, if vocal, nonviolent.

We can only speculate whether the post-Arab Spring anti-Muslim Brotherhood alliance encouraged Israel to launch the present campaign; but it has surely encouraged it to seek a more thorough destruction of Hamas' military capabilities than it did in earlier incursions.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Arab governments should learn from those members of the American Jewish community and brave Israelis who have been consistently "pro-Israel" while criticizing Israeli government policies. There is no reason why Arab governments could not be a bit more "pro-Gaza" while also being anti-Hamas.