David Hearst – Arab states, Turkey and the West are letting Israel get away with murder in Gaza

Six months on, the demolition of Gaza has yet to make a dent in the behaviour of the regimes closest to it.

David Hearst is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He is a commentator and speaker on the region and analyst on Saudi Arabia. He was the Guardian’s foreign leader writer, and was correspondent in Russia, Europe, and Belfast. He joined the Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.

Cross-posted from Middle East Eye

Picture by Global Panorama

The unimpeded slaughter in Gaza has lit a furnace of anger and humiliation in each and every Arab and Muslim heart. 

If witnesses to the Nakba of 1948 are few and far between, a whole generation now knows what a genocide looks and feels like in real time.

The Israeli onslaught has projected Palestine into the world’s number one moral cause, like the end of apartheid in South Africa, the civil rights campaign in the US, or the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. 

But six months on, the demolition of Gaza has yet to make a dent in the behaviour of the regimes closest to it.

They behave as if it’s business as usual. The Palestinian Authority (PA) continues to collaborate with Israel on a nightly basis, putting factionalism above the national interest of the Palestinian people. Egypt continues to allow Israel to dictate how much aid gets through the Rafah crossing. Jordan drops token amounts of aid over Gaza, but only after it has asked Israel’s permission. 

Much has been threatened, but in reality none of the countries which normalised relations with Israel are prepared to pull the plug on recognition.

‘Guilty as charged’

At the Munich Security Conference last month, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry agreed with Tsipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister, that Hamas was beyond the pale because it refused to recognise Israel. By that time at least 28,858 civilians had been killed in Gaza. 

Two weeks later, three warhorses trooped on stage at the Antalya Diplomatic Forum to issue ritual denunciations of a war they had no intention of letting either Hamas or Gaza win.

Speaking the day after the massacre that took place when Israeli forces fired on people at an aid convoy in Gaza City’s al-Rasheed Street, Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, blustered “the only legitimate authority that will operate and will continue operating in Gaza is the Palestinian Authority.”

This is when the PA is so unpopular at home in the occupied West Bank, it has trouble asserting its legitimacy in Nablus, Jenin or for that matter, Ramallah. 

Abdulla bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, undersecretary of the Bahraini foreign ministry, bristled when asked whether it was business as usual for Bahrain. But went on to say “achieving peace will never be through isolation, extremism or aggression, but rather through communication, dialogue and peaceful means.” Which meant the same thing.

At least Hossam Zaki, assistant general secretary of the Arab League, was honest: “All internationals have failed. Yes we are all guilty as charged.”

Only one country present at Antalya did not mince its words, but that country is 6500km away.

South Africa has thrown caution to the wind. It is prepared to risk US sanctions  – there are two punitive bills proceeding through the House of Representatives at this moment – to make a moral stand on Palestine.

“We are heterogeneous in the global South. But one thing we share is the historical experience of oppression and colonialism. This is what unites us in supporting the struggle for Palestine,” said Naledi Pandor, Pretoria’s minister of international relations.

This week, Pandor is in Washington to lobby against the imposition of sanctions which would be “catastrophic” for her country. But by heaven, it feels lonely.

“We went to the International Court of Justice, looked around, and there was nobody behind us,” said Faisal Dawjee, former media director for the South African government, recalling the pressure South Africa came under to withdraw the case before the preliminary ruling. 

“What’s happening in the occupied territories is ten times worse than the apartheid we experienced in South Africa, and the West is complicit in apartheid and genocide,” Dawjee said.

But neither have the hosts of this conference in Antalya, Turkey, been immune from criticism.

What is Turkey doing?

The people of Gaza have held their breath on two occasions in recent Turkish history – the first was on 15 July 2016, the night of the failed Gulenist coup, and the second was Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s re-election last year. 

Now that Gaza is really at the mercy of a vicious invading force, one that makes no distinction between fighters and civilians and repeatedly attacks crowds gathering at aid convoys, what is Turkey doing?

From the start, Turkey built its foreign policy towards the war on two assumptionswhich turn out to be questionable six months on. It said that Ankara should be part of the regional Arab consensus – as we have painfully seen, there is none. 

And it said that Turkey would be a guarantor nation to a two-state solution: there is no two-state solution that the current Israeli leader is prepared to accept, and no Israeli politician has yet been born who is prepared to order the eviction of well over 750,000 heavily armed settlers in the West Bank, occupied East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Qatar is taking a pasting for playing the role of mediator with the political wing of Hamas in Doha, and Turkey, which has contacts with Hamas and is just as close, has not shared this burden.

To be taken seriously as a guarantor, you need to be visible, and much of what Turkey has done has been behind the scenes.

Turkish officials don’t take the criticism. 

They admit that much of what they have done publicly has been guided by the fear of falling into the trap Ankara fell into after the military coup in Egypt, and the failed intervention in Libya, when they fought for the Arab Spring in almost complete isolation. 

Today, they have a horror of being the only head above the parapet. Beneath it, they claim, they have been active. They say they have changed the narrative about Gaza, making it about a two-state solution.

In this, Ankara wanted to show the world that Israel is the one-stater, whose ruling party Likud claims Jewish sovereignty from the river to the sea.

By the same token, Ankara has pushed hard to unify Fatah and Hamas, and this effort was starting to succeed. Jibril Rajoub, general secretary of Fatah, made conciliatory remarks to Hamas, but the talks came to a standstill when Israel killed his closest contact in Hamas, Saleh al-Arouri, who once shared the same cell.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan encouraged Arab states to make a stand against Israel and the US, and this has worked to a degree. 

Having poured scorn on Hamas, Saudi Arabia has taken a more aggressive position on a two-state solution, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman snubbed US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on his last visit.

“We showed them you can shout at America, because we have always done that. They were taken aback,” one official said.

Turkey created the Gaza Contact Group to convince western states that opposed an immediate ceasefire. The group included Muslim countries like Indonesia and Nigeria. Turkey also claims credit for bringing the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) together to give a sharper Muslim voice to their statements.

Has any of this worked?

Strategic patience wearing thin

On 26 October, 120 nations voted for a ceasefire resolution supported by Jordan at the UN General Assembly with 14 voting against and 45 abstentions. Erdogan, Fidan and the Arab-Islamic delegation set about persuading the countries that did not support the resolution. By December 153 nations supported a ceasefire, with 10 against and 23 abstentions.

Turkey in the meantime has withdrawn its ambassador to Israel but continues to trade with it, although in fruits rather than arms. 

I am not sure playing the nice guy with Israel or the Arab regimes that surround it works. 

The analysis of those advisers around Erdogan about the rottenness of the Arab state and its deep complicity with Israel holds true as never before.

If Turkey can act decisively and within hours in Libya when Khalifa Haftar’s forces came within 14km of Tripoli, or in Azerbaijan, it seems curious it is so hesitant to act on its doorstep in Gaza. 

True, in both Libya and Azerbaijan, there was a vacuum of international power. In Gaza there is not. But history favours the bold. And what hesitancy does is leave the playing field open to Israel and the US, who are the cause of the slaughter in Gaza.

If I were the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, I would be tempted to think that I could get away with my policy of perpetual war, because as yet no serious international pressure has emerged to stop him.

This may be about to change. Fidan told a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah this week that Turkey’s strategic patience was wearing thin: “There is an overwhelming  expectation from us to act right now, even if it means doing so unilaterally.”

Break the siege of Gaza

Let’s be clear what a permanent ceasefire in Gaza has to achieve.

Way before negotiations begin on a mythical Palestinian state  – and that could only happen under a new Israeli government and the ousting of the National Security Minister Itmar Ben Gvir and the Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the shock troopers of Jewish supremacy, which would be big enough events in themselves – the ceasefire has to break the siege of Gaza.

It is the siege – the ability of Israel to calculate the number of calories each Palestinian in Gaza gets down to the point of starvation – that really matters. Leave it in place and Israel will be haggling over every bag of flour, every bag of cement that goes through. 

There comes a time when Muslim nations can no longer be spectators. They have to act. They have to confront America and Europe. They have to demolish the argument that an apartheid state has the right to commit genocide and do that in the name of self-defence.

My gut feeling is that neither the US nor the EU, both in election years, are in a mood to push back. It would not take much to force them to accept other military forces on the ground, under the guise of a peacekeeping or aid operation.

The US is exhausted with the Middle East after three decades of failed intervention. Its ability to deter the Houthis in the Red Sea, Hezbollah in Lebanon, or the Iraqi militias hugely diminished.

It’s Israel’s turn to feel the cold hand of western duplicity. Such a shock is long overdue, and can only be delivered by its closest ally.

Only then might it be ready to negotiate with a people it has done everything in its armoury to crush. It’s long overdue.

Due to the Israeli war crimes in Gaza we have increased our coverage from five to six days a week. We do not have the funds to do this, but felt that it was the only right thing to do. So if you have not already donated for this year, please do so now. To donate please go HERE.

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