Arab Leaders Urged to Encourage Hamas to Cease Hostilities

This week, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas called on Hamas to reach a deal to free the Israeli hostages and spare Gaza additional death and destruction.

The move was brazen — because while Hamas is distressingly popular among Palestinians, Pres. Abbas (who’s plagued by corruption charges) is not.

Either way, it’s a call that the rest of the Middle East’s supposedly moderate Sunni Arab leaders could clearly learn from.

Palestinian Pres. Mahmoud Abbas took the brave step of calling upon Hamas to end the war with Israel — other Arab leaders should follow his lead. AP

Most Arab leaders know that despite Hamas claims, the militant organization is actually the enemy of the Palestinian people.

For more than 30 years Hamas has deployed terrorism to derail a two-state solution.

And Arab leaders are well aware that regional peace will remain elusive until the group is sidelined.

So why pretend otherwise?

Why did Jordan’s normally reasonable King Abdullah direct his words at Israel and not Hamas when he declared this week that the Gaza war must end?

A poll released last month of 8,000 respondents from 16 Arab countries helps explain why.

Conducted by the Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, the survey found that 67% of those polled considered the Oct. 7 massacre a legitimate “resistance operation” and 69% expressed solidarity with Hamas.

In Saudi Arabia, 68% rejected recognition of Israel.

Despite the public’s grumblings, Arab leaders must find ways to overcome this resistance if peace — in either Gaza or the region — is to be realized.

First and foremost, Hamas’ demise would weaken Iran, which backs the militants along with its sibling proxies, the Houthis and Hezbollah.

Defang Hamas, and Israel might reach a two-state accommodation with the Palestinians that the Arab world can live with, further sidelining Iran.

Jordanian King Abdullah has called on Israel and Hamas to end the fighting, but has put the onus on Jerusalem. Shutterstock

Beyond Iran, Palestinian statehood would provide Saudi Arabia with necessary cover to finally join the Abraham Accords, yielding vital economic synergies with Israel and a US security umbrella against its rivals in Tehran.

Riyadh blames the mullahs for the bombing of its oil fields in 2019 and for arming its Houthi adversaries in neighboring Yemen.

Riyadh needs Israeli military capabilities to defend those oil fields, as well as Israeli innovation to help it move past dependence on oil exports.

So far, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has kept his criticism of Israel to a minimum, though he’s said even less against Hamas. 

Under the leadership of President Ebrahim Raisi, Iran has continued to support Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis. Iranian Presidency/AFP via Getty Images

Egypt’s economy has been battered by the Houthis’ impeding of sea traffic to the Suez Canal over the Gaza conflict.

So far this year, canal revenues are down 40% over 2023, thanks to the Hamas contagion.

Removing Hamas would not only dial down hostilities, it would calm talk from Cairo about ending its 45 year-old peace treaty with Israel.

Far poorer than its neighbor, Egypt needs to get their relationship back on track.

Current bilateral trade stands at just $300 million per year; a plan to more than double that figure by 2025 was released last May, but remains in doubt as long as Hamas and Israel trade blows.

An end to the Gaza nightmare would also alleviate Egypt’s fear that millions of Gazans might flee into the Sinai desert, with Hamas operatives among them strengthening existing jihadi radicals.

Back in late November, Egyptian Pres. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he welcomes a Gaza that is “demilitarized” and even under joint international control, but has yet to openly criticize Hamas. 

Egypt is terrified Gazans will stream across its border with the Gaza Strip and further add to its own problems with Islamic fundamentalism. HAITHAM IMAD/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Jordan’s situation post-Oct. 7 is particularly dire, because its population mostly is Palestinian-descended.

In that Doha poll, Jordan’s respondents were the region’s most pessimistic, with 71% saying they have “become convinced there is no possibility” of peace with Israel – even though their country signed a peace treaty in 1994.

Jordan’s jittery Hashemite dynasty knows that the wars that Hamas foments radicalize this population, feeding instability and spreading jihadist ideology that is anathema to Amman’s Western-oriented leadership, which faces crucial parliamentary elections in August.

This requires constant counter-terrorism vigilance; removing Hamas would help end this threat — no matter how loudly Queen Rania bashes Jerusalem. 

Lebanon, which is almost entirely occupied by the Iranian proxy Hezbollah, would benefit mightily from the eradication of Hamas, another Iranian proxy.

Anti-jihadi momentum and a weaker Iran could compel Hezbollah to pull back from the Israeli border and stop provoking its neighbor to the south.

Dismantling Hamas and ending its war with Israel would be the first step toward a potential two-state solution. MOHAMMED SABER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Lebanon’s Christian leadership signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1982 only to see the early version of Hezbollah end it by assassinating the president.

The country’s economy today is near collapse and calm with Israel — in a post-Hamas Levant — would be more important than ever.

Even the United Arab Emirates, hugely rich yet undemocratic, would benefit from Hamas’ demise.

The Abraham Accords were predicated on the assumption of huge economic synergy.

Trade, however, remains relatively modest, at around $2.5 billion per year.

Israel and the UAE had set a target of $10 billion in annual trade by 2027 before the Gaza crisis.

But Emirati leaders have warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that peace with Israel “could turn cold” if the war drags on.

And that appears very likely despite Pres. Abbas’ unanticipated Hamas rebuke. 

Dan Perry is the former Associated Press regional editor for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, chaired the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem, and authored two books about Israel. Follow him at danperry.substack.com

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