L-R: Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Emirati FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House
L-R: Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Emirati FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House
Photo: AFP
L-R: Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Emirati FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House

Will Israel's Gaza campaign strain new Gulf friendships?

Criticism of Israel from Gulf allies now often comes balanced with popular expression of hard words for the other side and even echoes Israeli talking points, but scenes of devastation in Gaza may make it harder for Israel to win its biggest diplomatic prize: recognition by Saudi Arabia

Reuters |
Published: 05.17.21 , 18:27
Scenes of devastation in Gaza may make it harder for Israel to win its biggest diplomatic prize: recognition by Saudi Arabia. But so far, the other rich Gulf states that invested in opening ties with the Jewish state last year are showing no public sign of second thoughts.
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  • Arab officials have come together to condemn what they describe as flagrant Israeli violations during the past two weeks, from Israeli police action around Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque to deadly airstrikes on Gaza Strip terrorist factions that also take a civilian toll.
    5 צפייה בגלריה
    L-R: Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Emirati FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House
    L-R: Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Emirati FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House
    L-R: Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Emirati FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House
    (Photo: AFP)
    But in the United Arab Emirates, which along with Bahrain, recognized Israel last year under the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords, official criticism of Israel now often comes balanced with popular expression of hard words for the other side.
    In some cases in the UAE, which has long denounced Islamist political movements, condemnation of the Hamas terror outfit that controls Gaza even echoes Israeli talking points.
    "Hamas launches rockets from within civilian neighborhoods and when the response comes Hamas cries 'where are the Arabs and Muslims'? You have made Gaza a graveyard for the innocent and children," Waseem Yousef, a Muslim preacher in the UAE, tweeted to his 1.6 million followers on Twitter.
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    תקיפות צה"ל בעזה
    תקיפות צה"ל בעזה
    Aftermath of an IDF airstrike in the Gaza Strip
    (Photo: EPA )
    In a country where social media is closely monitored by the authorities, another Emirati, Munther al-Shehhi, tweeted: "I will not stand by or empathize with any terrorist group such as Hamas in support of any cause, even if it is packaged as humanitarian or religious. #No To Terrorism."
    A social media hashtag has even begun circulating among some Gulf Arabs, which reads "#Palestine Is Not My Cause".

    SAUDIS KEEP DISTANCE

    So far, such sentiment does not seem to have made inroads too deeply into Saudi Arabia. The biggest, richest and most powerful of the Gulf monarchies is widely presumed to have given its tacit blessing to last year's decision by neighbors Bahrain and the UAE to embrace Israeli ties. But it held back from recognizing Israel itself, and now appears far less likely to do so, at least in the medium term.
    5 צפייה בגלריה
    מלך סעודיה, סלמאן בן עבד אל-עזיז בועידת הליגה הערבית בטוניז
    מלך סעודיה, סלמאן בן עבד אל-עזיז בועידת הליגה הערבית בטוניז
    Saudi King Salman
    (Photo: AP)
    Many Saudis have responded to the "Not My Cause" hashtag by posting pictures of King Salman, with his quote: "The Palestinian cause is our first cause".
    On May 13, Saudi television aired footage of a cleric in Mecca praying for Palestinian victory against "the enemy of God", less than a year after the kingdom's leading imam discouraged rhetoric against Jews following the September accords.
    It would now be "inconceivable" that the Saudi leadership could contemplate normalizing ties with Israel for at least a couple of years, said Neil Quilliam, associate fellow at Britain's Chatham House think tank.
    5 צפייה בגלריה
    בנמין נתניהו, מלך מרוקו מוחמד ה-6
    בנמין נתניהו, מלך מרוקו מוחמד ה-6
    Moroccan King Mohammed VI and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: AFP, Ohad Zwigenberg)
    Last year's decisions by the UAE and Bahrain, followed by Sudan and Morocco, to recognize Israel were denounced by the Palestinians as abandoning a unified position under which Arab states would make peace only if Israel gave up contested land.
    The UAE and Bahrain argued that their agreements would ultimately benefit the Palestinians, including because Israel had promised to abandon plans to annex West Bank territory.
    Abdulrahman al-Towajry, 29, a Saudi national visiting a Riyadh shopping mall, said the countries that had made peace should "really reconsider it" as Israel could not be "trusted to abide by promises".
    5 צפייה בגלריה
    Former US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (L) and Sudanese Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari sign the Abraham Accords in Sudan in January 2021
    Former US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (L) and Sudanese Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari sign the Abraham Accords in Sudan in January 2021
    Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (R) and Sudanese Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari sign the Abraham Accords in Sudan in January 2021
    (Photo: AP)
    "There is strength in unity so if Arab and Muslim countries unite, the conflict would end. It could have ended a long time ago if they had," he told Reuters.
    But the Emiratis and others probably have too much invested in the policy to change course abruptly now.
    The agreements have propelled tourism, investment and cooperation in fields from energy to technology. A UAE investment fund has plans to purchase a stake in an Israeli gas field and Dubai's port operator is bidding for Haifa Port.
    "The Abraham Accords are an irreversible process," said prominent Emirati commentator Abdulkhaleq Abdulla. "It was very clear that it was in keeping with the UAE's national priorities and strategic interests so there is no going back."
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