Arab leaders deliver united message to the US: the West is failing on Israel-Gaza

Visit to Washington by Arab foreign ministers came as Washington vetoed UN Security Council resolution for a ceasefire

Turkish and Arab foreign ministers attend a briefing on the current situation in Gaza, in Washington. AFP
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Arab foreign ministers are in the US capital this week with a clear message to the country that gives the most financial aid to Israel: the West's response to the war in Gaza is unacceptable.

Ahead of a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday, members of the Arab-Islamic Foreign Ministerial Delegation, including the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt, made appearances at several Washington think tank events.

Speaking alongside other Arab leaders at the Wilson Centre, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan addressed the UN Security Council ceasefire resolution vote, in which the US exercised its veto power.

“This is to us unfathomable,” said Prince Faisal.

“In conflicts such as this … where civilian casualties have been far outpacing any justifiable military means, that has always been what the international community has rallied around, to stop the fighting. In this case, why is it not the same?”

Ayman Safadi, Foreign Minister of Jordan, one of Washington's closest regional allies, echoed the strong tone and said the US was propping up a “strategic failure” for Israel and its own regional interests.

Addressing a question to a panel moderator, Mr Safadi asked: “Do you really see any of us [Arab officials] in this environment sitting next to an Israeli minister right now and talking about regional integration or economic co-operation or other issues?

“If you want to help Israel, help it. But you're not helping it by allowing it to continue with an aggression that is going to haunt the whole region for many, many years to come.

“Israel is basically doing whatever it wants, in defiance even of its allies, creating a horrific situation in Gaza, and then it expects all of us to come and clean up its mess. We will not do that.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry added: “There is a double standard being applied to this conflict in terms of acceptance of this scale of human suffering.”

The Israel-Gaza war has put a historically pro-Israel Washington at odds with its Arab partners. The US is the top donor to Israel and “almost all US bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance”, a March 2023 congressional report said.

In the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, President Joe Biden's administration moved urgently to approve billions more dollars towards Israeli defences.

The Biden administration has sidestepped questions about whether its ally has violated international law regarding collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza. Its counter-offensive there has killed more than 17,000 Palestinians so far, according to local officials.

The 2023 congressional report found that “the United States has provided Israel $158 billion (current, or noninflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defence funding”.

Speaking at the Atlantic Council earlier on Friday morning, Mr Shoukry warned that the Global South is “losing confidence in the viability” of western values as the death toll and humanitarian crisis in Gaza intensifies.

“The Global South is looking very carefully at the progression of this conflict and is making comparisons. And I believe that it is losing confidence in the viability of the values that are projected by the Global North,” he said.

“This is a dangerous situation, because it will cause the unravelling of what we consider an important aspect of international relations … If we cannot apply values in a consistent and clear manner, then it all becomes turbulent and the policy is applied in relation to individual perspectives.”

Arab leaders are not alone in their criticism of double standards.

Ahead of the ceasefire vote on Friday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that Hamas's violent attacks on Israel in October do not “justify the collective punishment” of people in Gaza.

“Some 130 hostages are still held captive. I call for their immediate and unconditional release, as well as their humane treatment and visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross until they are freed,” he said.

“At the same time, the brutality perpetrated by Hamas can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

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Updated: December 08, 2023, 11:11 PM