As the war between Israel and Hamas continues, much of the world — including countries who have been critical of Israel’s siege of Gaza — has condemned Hamas for the terrorist attacks of Oct. 7 that prompted open conflict. One region that hasn’t done so, though, is the Middle East, as the coalition of Arab states has largely remained mum about Hamas’ role in the fight.
Many of the countries in the region have either ignored the initial terrorist attack by Hamas or blamed Israel for creating division among the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. While most of the coalition countries have decried violence against civilians occurring on both sides, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are the only two Arab states that have specifically condemned Hamas, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Israel has countered that it is attempting to drive out Hamas alone because the Arab states refuse to join them in condemning terrorism. But how correct is Israel? If the Arab states were to have an about-face and condemn Hamas, would it shift the tide of the fight towards peace? Or are Israel and Hamas too far entrenched in conflict for the stances of the Arab states to make a difference?
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Leaders throughout the Arab world “have been caught in a difficult bind” and “must walk a careful line to avoid triggering a domestic and diplomatic backlash,” Ghaith al-Omari wrote for Foreign Affairs. This is especially true at a time when support for Palestinians and calls for a cease-fire in Gaza are running high within Arab communities, al-Omari added.
Most Arab governments “were caught off guard by the unprecedented scale and brutality of Hamas’s attack,” al-Omari wrote, but also understood that their countries “have populations that are highly supportive of the Palestinians and have immediate national security concerns to think about.” Egypt and Jordan, for example, “called for de-escalation, and criticized Israeli policies toward the Palestinians” in the aftermath of Oct. 7 but refrained from directly condemning Hamas.
Instead, the Arab coalition is “preoccupied with preventing the Gaza conflict from expanding into a regional war pitting Israel and the West against Iran and allied political militias” such as Hezbollah, Tom Hussain wrote for the South China Morning Post. In fact, a cease-fire in Gaza “may be the only objective that has all Arab states’ backing,” Ahmed Aboudouh, an associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa at the Chatham House think tank, told the Morning Post.
But while the Arab states would probably not be able to stop the conflict outright, they also haven’t “made any attempt to build a consensus on taking collective diplomatic action” to end the war, Aboudouh said. This is true even as Arab diplomats told The Times of Israel that there was “wall-to-wall disapproval among Israel’s Arab allies and beyond of the atrocities committed by Hamas on Oct. 7.” However, they told the Times that the attacks “prove the failure of Israel’s long-maintained strategy of ‘ignoring the Palestinian issue.'”
What next?While governments may not be condemning Hamas, Arab populations are seeing “a growing trend to renounce violence as a means of pursuing political objectives and a desire for stability,” the nonpartisan Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reported. The endowment noted that “several media outlets and some influential social media accounts were quick to condemn the violence and call for the protection of life on both sides,” and that when any government “ignored the targeting of Israeli civilians, their one-sided opinions were quickly marginalized.”
But despite calls for peace from both Israeli and Palestinian citizens, it seems that the war isn’t slowing down. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed back against calls for a cease-fire in Gaza, and Hamas is still holding hundreds of Israeli citizens hostage. Both sides of the war are being accused of war crimes, NPR reported, “but determining whether there are violations depends on evidence and the judgments made by commanders.”
The leaders of 57 Arab states recently convened in Saudi Arabia for an international summit. Most of them want to solve the problem “before events in the region and in their own countries risk deteriorating far beyond their control,” BBC reported — but this may be easier said than done.
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