Despite the fact that the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine is a direct outcome of Washington’s flawed policies, the Biden administration is doing everything it can to turn this conflict into a wider war in the region. Providing US$3.8 billion in military aid to Israel versus US$100 million only for Gaza clearly demonstrates Washington’s priorities. For this reason, Arab states, including the UAE, otherwise signatories of the now infamous Abraham Accords, are not only criticising Israel but also showing who they think is the best possible global power that must side with them vis-à-vis Israel and in support of Palestine. The choice appears to be China. But if China is getting involved, can Russia stay far behind? Russia’s Putin has already called the conflict Washington’s drastic failure. China’s Foreign Minister said,“Israel’s actions have gone beyond the scope of self-defence,” adding that Israel must stop its “collective punishment” of Gaza residents.
Without a doubt, Washington’s failed policy and inability to control Israel’s madness have crippled its diplomatic options, allowing China & Russia to swoop in. At the same time, Washington is now blaming Iran as the sole reason for igniting a war to prevent the US-brokered deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Surely, this claim is falling on deaf ears in the Middle East. Exacerbating this is Washington’s public lies regarding Israel’s bombing of a hospital that killed hundreds. A reaction is already hurting Washington.
As such, when Blinken flew to Saudi Arabia last week with a view to convincing Riyadh to embrace Washington’s view of the conflict, Saudi Arabia’s Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) kept him waiting for several hours before the meeting. Embrasingly for Blinken, What was scheduled to happen in the evening happened the next morning. Still, when the meeting eventually happened, Blinken’s expectations were dashed to the ground. A report in the Washington Post noted, MBS not only “stressed the need to stop the military operations that claimed the lives of innocent people … and lift the siege of Gaza that has left the Palestinian territory without water, electricity or fuel” but he “also called for a halt in the current escalation in the conflict, a direct contradiction of U.S. policy, which has backed Israel to pursue its maximalist goal of eradicating Hamas.” Can the Biden administration blame this on Iran? Not unless Washington believes that the rest of the world lives in a fool’s paradise.
Contrast this with the Arab state’s approach towards China. On October 14, envoys of the Arab States in China requested an extraordinary meeting with the Special Envoy of the Chinese Government on the Middle East, Zhai Jun. Taking a position drastically different, rather opposite, from the US, Zhai said that “the international community has the responsibility to take immediate actions to ease the tension, promote the resumption of talks for peace, and safeguard the Palestinian people’s lawful national rights.” Instead of projecting any disproval of China’s policies, as MBS did by making Blinken wait, the Arab envoys thanked China “for upholding a just position on the Palestinian question … and expressed the hope that China will continue to play a positive and constructive role.”
At the same time, MBS had a phone call with Iran’s President Raisi, where they talked about a common strategy to prevent an all-out war in the region. A clear China-Russia-Iran-Arab nexus is on the cards here, which means that this axis, rather than the US and its European allies, is placed in a far better position than the collective West to shape peace in the Middle East. Indeed, it is due to the strength of this axis and the resistance it is offering that Washington has so far not been able to extend full support to Israel’s planned land invasion of Gaza.
The message from this axis has been clear, as Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s Foreign Minister warned after holding meetings with Hezbollah and Hamas leaders in Beirut and Doha, that unless Israel stopped its barbaric air strikes on Gaza, an escalation by the Resistance is inevitable and Israel could suffer a “huge earthquake.”
Washington takes Iran’s warnings seriously, considering the role Tehran played against the US in Syria and considering the fact that Iran’s position has Chinese and Russian support as well. Therefore, the question that many are asking is whether the US can influence, let alone drive, the peace process in the Middle East. The Abraham Accords are impossible to resuscitate. Something else is needed and is already happening in the China-Russia-Iran-Arab nexus.
“American leadership is what holds the world together”, said Biden in his remarks delivered from the White House. The problem is that this leadership has already lost its legitimacy, and its power is turning into a mere illusion, which is, once again, why Jordan – otherwise one of Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East – cancelled a summit with the US and Egypt to discuss Gaza after Israel’s bombing of the hospital and Washington’s refusal to publicly name Israel.
For the US to really assert its leadership, it needs to find a balanced position. Biden cannot hug Netanyahu and still expect that no one will notice that the embrace is not symbolic but carries military substance and is at the heart of killing innocent people in Palestine. But even if Biden wanted to craft a balanced position, he is unable to do this because of domestic political imperatives, where the Republicans have accused Biden of going ‘soft’ on Iran and ignoring Israel. Elections are fast approaching. The Democrats do not want this crisis to become a reason for their defeat. But the more they support Israel, the more space they create for the Arab states to embrace China and Russia as their preferred partners in peace.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.