Gulf Arab states support Palestinians, but also form subtle ties to Israel

Countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar remain publicly aligned with Palestinian interests but have begun to engage with Israel on key diplomatic, cultural, or economic levels. The shift may be inspired, in part, by concerns of Iranian influence in Palestine. 

Evan Vucci/AP
President Trump displays a chart showing arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on March 20, 2018 in Washington. Saudi Arabia's ties to the Trump administration have allowed it to develop a stronger relationship with Israel.

Arab states resoundingly condemned the killing of more than 50 Palestinians in this week's Gaza protests, just as they have after previous Israeli violence going back decades – but behind the scenes fears over Iran have divided Arab leaders, with some willing to quietly reach out to Israel.

Saudi Arabia, which has used its control of holy sites in Mecca and Medina to brand itself the protector of Islam around the world, offered a brief statement of condemnation and reaffirmed its support for "the Palestinian brotherly people" and their "legitimate rights."

Over the past year its powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has cultivated close ties with President Trump's administration. Palestinian officials say Saudi intermediaries have conveyed details of US peace proposals that strongly favor Israel. The administration is said to have been working on a plan for more than a year, but has released no details.

In March, just as the weekly Gaza protests were getting underway, the crown prince met with pro-Israel Jewish American leaders, where he was quoted by Axios, an online newsletter focused on Washington politics, as saying the Palestinians should accept the proposals or "shut up and stop complaining." The prince later appeared to acknowledge Jewish claims to Israel, telling The Atlantic that Israelis "have the right to have their own land."

He also suggested that if there is peace, relations between Gulf Arab states and Israel would be of mutual interest.

At a ceremony Monday to mark the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem – one of the targets of the Gaza protests – Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner said alliances are already shifting in favor of Israel.

"From Israel to Jordan to Egypt to Saudi Arabia and beyond, many leaders are fighting to modernize their countries and create better lives for their people," Mr. Kushner said. "In confronting common threats and in pursuit of common interests, previously unimaginable opportunities and alliances are emerging."

He spoke as Israeli forces shot and killed at least 59 Palestinians and wounded more than 2,700 during mass protests along the Gaza border.

Kushner has developed a particularly close relationship with the Saudi crown prince, who has used the relationship to build pressure against Iran. The kingdom was one of the few countries to welcome Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last week.

It isn't just Saudi Arabia that has inched closer to Israel. Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, tweeted support for Israel after an attack on Iranian targets in Syria last week. The tiny Gulf country, where the Sunni monarchy put down an uprising supported by its Shiite majority in 2011, has long viewed Iran as a threat.

Despite signs of outreach with Israel and a shared enmity for Iran, Bahrain condemned the targeting of Palestinian civilians on Monday, and reaffirmed support for an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital. The United Arab Emirates also condemned Israel's "current escalation in the Gaza Strip."

State-aligned media took a tougher line. A front-page editorial Tuesday in Dubai's Gulf News ran with the headline: "Mr. President, you killed any glimmer of hope for peace." The front page of Abu Dhabi's The National described the US Embassy move as "a new catastrophe."

Tough rhetoric aside, Israeli businessmen are known to work in the UAE, often traveling in on American or European passports. The UAE hosts an Israeli representative to the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency, while Israeli judo stars spar in annual competitions in the Emirati capital. Bicyclists sponsored by the UAE and Bahrain recently took part in the Giro d 'Italia race leg held in Israel.

Among Arab Gulf states, Qatar's statement was the most fiercely worded. It described the violence as a "brutal massacre and systematic killing committed by the Israeli occupation forces against unarmed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including children and women, during their peaceful and legitimate protest."

Qatar's leaders have spent millions of dollars on rebuilding the Gaza Strip and, in coordination with Israel, supplying humanitarian aid there. Qatar has also hosted Hamas leaders over the years.

But even as it has provided aid to the Palestinians, Qatar has welcomed prominent pro-Israel figures from the US over the past year for conversations with the ruling emir. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz was among those invited, later writing that his visit to Qatar was paid for by the emir and commending Qatar for welcoming Israeli athletes to tournaments there.

Qatar's outreach appears to be driven by an effort to maneuver politically in the face of a nearly year-long blockade by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain. The standoff was ignited in part by Qatar's support of Islamist groups, such as Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and has fought three wars against Israel. The other Arab states are also angered by Qatar's warm relations with Iran.

Egypt, which once led the Arab struggle against Israel and fought several wars against it, became the first Arab nation to make peace in 1978. But the peace was always cold, with ordinary Egyptians enforcing a cultural boycott of Israel and regularly holding mass rallies in support of the Palestinians.

In recent years, however, Egypt has found common cause with Israel in containing Hamas and combatting Islamic extremists in the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt helps maintain the Israeli blockade of Gaza by only rarely opening its Rafah border crossing. Meanwhile, the Islamist and leftist activists who once organized demonstrations are nearly all in jail or exile, amid a sweeping crackdown on dissent.

In a sign of improved ties with Israel, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo celebrated the 70th anniversary of the country's founding earlier this month at the Nile Ritz Carlton. Only seven years earlier, protesters in Cairo had ransacked the Israeli embassy, climbing up the high-rise tower overlooking the Nile and tearing down the Israeli flag.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Gulf Arab states support Palestinians, but also form subtle ties to Israel
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today