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Arab rulers silent over Israel bombing of Gaza are on the 'wrong side' of their people

A Palestinian protester kicks effigies depicting (L) Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan during a demonstration in the village of Kfar Qaddum on September 25, 2020 [JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images]
A Palestinian protester kicks effigies depicting (L) Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan during a demonstration in the village of Kfar Qaddum on September 25, 2020 [JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images]

In another indication of the illegitimacy of Middle Eastern despots in the eyes of their people, Arab countries are deeply divided over the condemnation of Israel following its onslaught on Gaza which has killed at least 192 people, including 58 children and 34 women.

Though countries like Kuwait, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have all denounced Israel over its bombing of the besieged enclave – which may amount to war crimes in light of its targeting of non-military sites – others have opted to remain silent.

Countries that normalised relations with the occupation state last year have sat on the fence while rockets rained down on Gaza. The UAE, which led the anti-Palestinian normalisation drive, is said to be the most hostile to showing sympathy to the Palestinian cause.

The extent of the hostility towards Palestinians by the two Gulf monarchies, in particular, has drawn criticism. The hashtag "Palestine is not my cause" circulated in the UAE and Bahrain over the weekend. It's thought to be a state-backed response to Israel's bombing of Gaza.

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"[These governments] are on the wrong side of public opinion in how they're seen and received by the populations of the Arab region," Mohanad Hage Ali, a research fellow at Carnegie Middle East Centre is reported saying in the Guardian. "They're trying to pursue an active foreign policy holding positions that they've never had before. They could be seen as synonymous with the Israeli occupation and the Israeli policy in the region. This will have an impact on not only Israel but their new Arab allies. And this will tarnish their reputation."

Arab normalisation with Israel

Israel attacks Al-Aqsa Mosque with the help of Arab nations – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Other keen observers of the region also watched the silence of the Gulf states with raised eyebrows. "It is extraordinary, in this denial position of the Emiratis in particular, that they have not uttered hardly a single criticism of what is happening in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories," said Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU).

According to Doyle, these regimes are sending out a signal from the Emirati leadership that they are not going to be swayed away from the burgeoning alliance with Israel, which they consider to be valuable to future plans; this includes countering Iran, Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Nonetheless "the regimes are very nervous about Arab public opinion," said Doyle. "These scenes of the bombing of Gaza will make the leadership seem very worried and make them wish they would end sooner rather than later."

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