Gaza Gets Almost No Help From the Muslim World
Genocide or not? Who’s who in the debate
By: Salman Rafi Sheikh
What is strikingly missing from the debate over Israel’s wholesale destruction of Gaza and the killing of more than 23,000 people including more than 10,000 children is the Muslim world, the so-called champion of the rights of the Palestinians. The country that brought the question to the United Nations is not a Muslim one but South Africa – which not only practiced apartheid of the kind that Israel today represents but defeated it. For a majority of Muslim nations, Palestine is a major foreign policy issue. But their support for South Africa is conspicuously missing, adding insult to the injury of the Palestinians themselves.
Whereas Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and major Muslim organizations such as the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have expressed their support for the debate, none has decided to become a party or file their own cases. Hardly any of these states have even called out Israel for genocide. Those states such as Pakistan, which eventually called Israel’s onslaught “genocidal acts,” did that only after South Africa’s presentation, as they jumped on the bandwagon for face-saving. The OIC did the same. But beyond the OIC’s pseudo umbrella, many countries in the Muslim world have actually limited themselves to mere verbal criticism of Israel, conveyed to the world via media statements or expressed to Western diplomats in private meetings.
For instance, despite Pakistan’s “concerns” about the situation, which began on October 7, when Hamas invaders from Gaza murdered 1,400 Israelis, most of them in two kibbutzim, the Chief of the Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir didn’t specifically discuss the ongoing genocide during his visit last month to Washington, where he met military officials and the Secretary of the State Antony Blinken. The reason is simple: Islamabad is in search of military cooperation with Washington against the recent resurgence in terrorism. By taking a position against the US, Islamabad risks killing any opportunities for such cooperation. In addition, with US as Pakistan’s largest export market, accounting for 21 percent of exports, economic logic is also at play. Pakistan’s exports to the European Union account for almost 30 per cent of the total trade.
But Pakistan is not an exception. Before the ongoing phase of the conflict began, Saudi Arabia was very close to a Washington-brokered deal with Israel. Washington was considering offering Riyadh a permanent security treaty in exchange for Riyadh joining the now-moribund Abraham Accords. Although the war has disrupted this deal, it is not still very much on the table. Indeed, when Blinken recently visited Saudi Arabia and met Mohammad bin Salman, the two leaders “discussed the importance of the strategic partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”
The Saudi statement issued after the meeting makes no mention of genocide (even though the OIC called Israel’s actions genocidal). Instead, MBS resorted to the usual rhetoric emphasizing “humanitarian action,” “stability” and “peace”, rhetoric that has never been more devoid of any substance than it is today. Expressed under the umbrella of their own future ties, this rhetoric was overshadowed by the emphasis on reviewing “bilateral relations and ways to boost cooperation to the benefit of their countries.”
As far as other major Muslim states are concerned, Israel is negotiating a deal with Egypt to control the 13-km buffer zone between Gaza and the Egyptian border, the only border of the Palestinian coastal enclave not yet directly controlled by Israel. While the UAE has repeatedly condemned Israel’s action, Abu Dhabi continues to reinforce its ties with Israel by equally condemning Hamas, blaming it for starting the war and ignoring how the Abraham Accords it had signed played a direct role in compromising the Palestinians’ position.
In all, when the Arab League and the OIC met in November, the collective Muslim world failed to agree a common set of actions against Israel. Resolutions for suspending economic ties were defeated. Those who opposed them included Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, which have diplomatic relations. They were joined by Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, and Djibouti.
Except for Iran and the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel and its Western supporters are not facing any challenge from within the Muslim world. The primary reason is the importance these countries continue to attach to the West, even as they continue to see their ties actually growing post-conflict. But the war has not exposed the Muslim world itself. The West, with its ideas of democracy, and human rights, and its hypocritical relationship with many conventions it invented after the two World Wars, also stands exposed.
Last week, Germany officially announced that it will intervene in the proceedings of the International Court of Justice on behalf of Israel. This move, while unexpected, is also ironical, given that Germany has its own rich history of genocides. Between 1904 and 1908, the German Empire killed thousands in the modern-day Cameroon against two ethnic groups: the Herero and the Nama people. The 1985 Whitaker Report for the United Nations classified the violence as an attempt to exterminate these people. In 2015, Germany officially recognized it as “genocide”. But Berlin’s intervention in the ICJ on behalf of Israel and declaring that Israel’s actions do not amount to genocide are, in fact, taking us back to the past where the German state denied such allegations for over a century.
While the modern German republic, which for generations has tried to make amends for its Nazi past and its role in the Holocaust during the WWII has long made Israel’s security its Staatsräson (“reason of state”) – a term first coined in an essay by Germany’s former ambassador to Israel, Rudolf Dreßler, in the early 2000s, Germany’s support for Israel is not an exception. It is a norm in the collective West, partly an outcome of the minimum pressure it is facing from within the Muslim world.
This world has its own national imperatives that are impossible to get rid of or change. Both it and the Muslim nations are led by elites whose interests are too closely tied to the West to be sacrificed for Palestine. They like to buy properties in London, Paris, and New York and spend their leisure time shopping there. For them, these matters are much more important and a war that does not affect them directly shouldn’t be allowed to disrupt the normal flow of things.
Dr. Salman Rafi Sheikh is an Assistant Professor of Politics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He holds a PhD. in Politics and International Studies from SOAS, University of London. He is a longtime regular contributor to Asia Sentinel.