Can Israel blast Gaza and still make friends in the Gulf?
The scenes of destruction in Gaza are expected to make it more difficult for Israel to earn its most important diplomatic prize: Saudi Arabia’s appreciation. But, so far, the other rich Gulf states that invested in establishing relations with Israel last year have shown no public signs of rethinking their decision.
Arab leaders have united to denounce what they call flagrant Israeli crimes during the last two weeks, ranging from Israeli police action near Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque to lethal air strikes on Gaza.
However, in the United Arab Emirates, which, along with Bahrain, recognised Israel last year under the US-backed “Abraham Accords,” official criticism of Israel is now often matched by widespread criticism of the other hand.
In certain ways, criticism of the Hamas insurgents that power Gaza parallels Israeli talking points in the UAE, which has long condemned Islamist political movements.
“Hamas fires missiles from residential areas, and when the answer arrives, Hamas cries, “Where are the Arabs and Muslims?” You have turned Gaza into a cemetery for the innocent and children “Waseem Yousef, a Muslim preacher in the United Arab Emirates, tweeted to his 1.6 million Twitter followers.
Another Emirati, Munther al-Shehhi, tweeted in a world where social media is tightly controlled by authorities: “I will not abide by or sympathise with any militant organisation, even Hamas, in favour of any cause, no matter how humanitarian or religious it seems to be. Terrorism Must Be Repealed.”
Any Gulf Arabs have also started using the hashtag “#PalestineIsNotMyCause” on social media.
KEEP DISTANCE FROM SAUDIS
So far, such sentiment may not seem to have made significant inroads into Saudi Arabia. The largest, wealthiest, and most influential of the Gulf monarchies is generally assumed to have given its tacit approval to neighbouring Bahrain and the UAE’s decision to accept Israeli relations last year. However, it has been reluctant to recognise Israel and still seems much less likely to do so, at least in the medium term.
Many Saudis replied to the “Not My Cause” hashtag by sharing photos of King Salman with the quote: “The Palestinian cause is our first cause.”
On May 13, Saudi television broadcast footage of a cleric in Mecca praying for Palestinian victory over “the enemy of God,” less than a year after the kingdom’s top imam discouraged anti-Jewish rhetoric in the aftermath of the September accords.
According to Neil Quilliam, associate fellow at Britain’s Chatham House think tank, it will now be “inconceivable” for the Saudi leadership to consider normalising ties with Israel for at least a couple of years.
The Palestinians criticised the UAE and Bahrain’s recognition of Israel last year, which was preceded by Sudan and Morocco, as abandoning a unified stance in which Arab states can make peace only if Israel gives up occupied territory.
The UAE and Bahrain concluded that their negotiations would favour Palestinians in the long run, citing Israel’s pledge to drop attempts to occupy West Bank territories.
Abdulrahman al-Towajry, 29, a Saudi native visiting a shopping mall in Riyadh, said the countries that had made peace should “really rethink it” because Israel could not be “trusted to keep commitments.”
“Since solidarity breeds power, if Arab and Muslim countries banded together, the dispute will be resolved. If they had, it might have ended a long time ago “According to Reuters, he said.
However, the Emiratis and others have undoubtedly put too much in the scheme to alter direction now.
Tourism, trade, and collaboration in fields ranging from oil to technology have benefited from the agreements. A UAE investment fund intends to buy a share in an Israeli gas sector, while Dubai’s port operator is bidding for Haifa Port.
“The Abraham Accords are an inevitable operation,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an influential Emirati commentator. “It was crystal obvious that it was consistent with the UAE’s national goals and strategic interests, but there is no turning back.”