NDTV Explainer: Gaza War May Unite Arab Countries Against Israel

For Palestinians and Arabs, the war with Israel did not begin on the morning of October 7, when Hamas launched 5,000 rockets into the country.

NDTV Explainer: Gaza War May Unite Arab Countries Against Israel

The deadly attack on a Gaza hospital on Tuesday has worsened the situation.

The Israel-Hamas war, which has been escalating since it broke out on October 7, has raised the spectre of not only bringing the Arab world's normalisation of ties with Israel to a grinding halt, but even making it reverse course. 

Historical wounds had been set aside and normalisation had been gathering momentum since the Abraham Accords of 2020, but one of the first diplomatic casualties of the war was Saudi Arabia pausing talks with the country. 

The deadly attack on a Gaza hospital on Tuesday, which killed 500 and whose origins are disputed, worsened the situation and Jordan announced the cancellation of a scheduled meeting between US President Joe Biden and Jordan's King Abdullah, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday. 

While the West has been standing firmly behind Israel and Mr Biden said that the hospital attack seemed to have been carried out by the "other team", Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey have blamed Israel for the attack.

The Nakba

For Palestinians and Arabs, the war with Israel did not begin on the morning of October 7, when Hamas launched 5,000 rockets into the country, coupled with a land and sea attack. For them, the war has been going on since 1948, when militias expelled Palestinians from their homes and killed tens of thousands in what is called the Nakba, or catastrophe. 

The 1948 Arab-Israeli War was the first conflict between the Arab World and the newly independent country. Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948 - after the United Nations' partition proposal for Palestine - and a civil war which was raging in what was called Mandatory Palestine until then, escalated into a conflict between Israel and Arab states.  

A military coalition of five Arab countries - Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria - entered Palestine and the war ended with the permanent displacement of more than half of the Palestinian population and Israel controlling almost 60% of the area proposed by the UN for the Palestinian state. 

Vicious Cycle

The relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbours continued to remain poor after an armistice was signed in 1949 and worsened after the Suez Crisis of 1956. In May 1967, Egypt announced that the Straits of Tiran would be closed to Israeli vessels and this was one of the catalysts for the Six-Day War a month later.

It was during the Six-Day War that the Israel military launched a ground offensive into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip, which is the focal point of the current war, over half a century later. The war saw the involvement of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. 

Egypt lost the Gaza Strip to Israel, Syria lost the Golan Heights and Jordan lost control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank

Another war took place in 1969 and was followed by the Yom Kippur or Ramadan War of 1973. This was fought between Israel, Egypt and Syria and also saw the US and the Soviet Union, who were locked in the Cold War, aiding opposite sides.

Arab Nationalism

The repeated wars with Israel and the loss of land to it - not only in Palestine but from other nations as well - has been a festering sore for the Arab psyche. In the 1950s and the 1960s, the heyday of Arab nationalism, Palestine was the central Arab cause which catapulted many Arab leaders to power

Popular and public support in many Arab nations is for an independent Palestinian state and many leaders who have spoken for normalised ties with Israel have had to pay a price. On July 20, 1951, Jordanian King Abdullah I was assassinated on the steps of one of the holiest shrines of Islam, the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, during Friday prayers, by a Palestinian opposed to Jordan's tolerance of Israel.

Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by militants who were against the peace deal with Israel.  

Another key aspect is religion. The Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam and Israel-occupied territories are home to several other Islamic holy sites. 

Abraham Accords

The Abraham Accords of 2020 between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE marked a turning point in ties between Israel and the Arab countries. Saudi Arabia, which had developed extensive business and military relationships with Israel, was also in talks with the country.

Many citizens in these autocracies were against the deals and those faultlines have come to the fore with protests in the Arab world.