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Will unconditional US support for Israel harm its ties with the Arab world?

The United States’ public support for Israel’s all-out assault on Gaza is undermining its relationships with its Arab allies and risks doing long-term damage to its standing in the region, analysts say.

Perennial US allies such as Jordan have openly criticised what they see as Washington’s green light for Israel to do as it sees fit in Gaza after more than 1,405 people were killed following an attack by the armed wing of the Palestinian group Hamas, and fighters took some 200 people captive, according to Israeli officials.

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Israel has responded by pounding the Palestinian enclave of Gaza with air raids that have already killed more than 7,028 Palestinians. It is widely expected to launch a ground invasion.

For its part, the US is “increasingly pushing behind the scenes for better Israeli decision-making, but it’s also providing weapons to Israel carte blanche”, said Josh Paul, a former senior official at the Department of State who publicly quit his post last week in protest at the strategy.

“Washington is giving unambiguous and unquestioned military support to Israel despite what many in the region see as a deep injustice. We have tried to frame ourselves as an honest broker, but we’re removing what little credibility we had left in that role,” he told Al Jazeera.

When US President Joe Biden visited Israel last week, he pledged the US’s full support, although he also negotiated a trickle of aid into Gaza and warned Israelis not to be “consumed” by rage.

He also backed Israel’s claim that Palestinian fighters were to blame for a deadly blast at a hospital in Gaza, although the main video evidence for that has been debunked and controversy is still raging over who was responsible.

Biden on Friday made a speech from the White House saying he had asked Congress for even more military assistance to Israel, barely mentioning the spiralling Palestinian death toll except to accuse Hamas of using “Palestinian civilians as human shields”.INTERACTIVE-LIVE-TRACKER-GAZA-OCT26-2023-1300GMT

‘Double standards’

In an impassioned speech at a Cairo summit on Saturday to discuss de-escalation, Jordan’s King Abdullah II said the message Arabs were hearing from the West was “loud and clear”.

“Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli ones. Our lives matter less than other lives. The application of international law is optional. And human rights have boundaries – they stop at borders, they stop at races, and they stop at religions,” he said.

His remarks, delivered in English as a message to Western leaders, echoed the feelings of many in the region where blanket US support for an occupying power is seen as particularly troublesome given Washington’s backing of Ukraine since Russia invaded it early last year.

Omar Rahman, a fellow at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs research institution, told Al Jazeera that “the level of double standards and hypocrisy coming out of the West is hitting home at a more fundamental level than before.

“There has always been a double standard when it came to Israel, but in the last two years, it has become a lot starker in light of the Ukraine conflict. That contrast has been particularly obvious over the past two weeks.”

Even before the Cairo peace summit, Jordan had cancelled a planned meeting with Biden and the Egyptian and Palestinian Authority leaders to discuss Gaza until the parties could agree to end the “war and the massacres against Palestinians”, blaming Israel for pushing the region to “the brink of the abyss”.

Speaking at a press conference at the United Nations on Tuesday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry also slammed Western “double standards” over Israel’s actions, saying that the suffering it is causing Palestinian civilians is not “self-defence”. Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told the Security Council that the world must take “a firm stand to end the military operations”.

Protests

Rahman said Arab governments needed to maintain ties with the US but also avoid being seen as complicit with an onslaught that has brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets from Iraq to Morocco.

“Arab leaders also have an eye to their own publics, who are visibly angry and voicing discontent on the streets,” Rahman said.

“People are fed up with this [American] support in the face of what Israel’s doing now,” he said. “It’s not only a threat to Palestinian lives en masse but also a threat to regional stability.”

The potential for unrest could be seen in Egypt on Friday when the administration of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi organised rallies at Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square in solidarity with Gaza.

Some protesters were filmed shouting slogans from the Arab Spring protests that led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The anger is not only in Arab capitals.

Over the weekend, HuffPost reported that a “mutiny” was brewing at the State Department where staff were preparing a rare “dissent cable” of internal criticism delivered to senior officials at moments of crisis.

That report came days after Paul resigned over what he called an “impulsive” and “immensely disappointing” policy, warning against “blind support for one side”.

Side-stepping the conflict

Speaking to Al Jazeera this week, Paul said the Biden administration’s attempt to side-step the Palestinian issue even prior to the latest conflict is counterproductive.

Since taking office, Biden has sought to roll back US engagement with the Middle East, while working to broker a deal with Saudi Arabia similar to the Abraham Accords that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed in 2020 normalising ties with Israel.

The drive for such a deal, which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in September would “need to solve” the Palestinian issue, is now firmly on ice.

“The strategy it has been pursuing, building on the Trump administration’s Abraham Accords, is misguided,” Paul said.

It “assumes one can build on them without having to worry about the Palestinian question. But we’ve seen that there’s no way of avoiding the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the civil and human rights of the Palestinian people,” he said.

“The current path will simply lead to more suffering, death and insecurity for both Palestinians and Israelis.”

James Ryan, director of research and the Middle East Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), said that the US strategy was “short-termist”.

“There can be no stable normalisation without a political solution to the Palestinian question, so when this conflict reared its head, it showed the short-sightedness and superficiality of that strategy,” he said.

In an analysis from last year, Ryan noted that Biden’s national security strategy, which involves normalisation efforts in the Middle East, emphasises “stability, however authoritarian, rather than rights.”

And while previous wars in Gaza have stirred similar levels of anger, Rahman noted that this time there was a “fundamental difference” in terms of the effect on US standing in the region.

“The standing of the US as the world’s sole superpower is in decline, and with that its allies are acting more autonomously, taking more assertive postures and balancing their ties with other rising powers like China,” he said.

“We’re at a reckoning. That doesn’t mean the US is ‘just another country’ – obviously, it’s still one of most powerful – but there’s a challenge to that.”

Source: Al Jazeera

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