Meeting Saturday in the Saudi capital, Arab leaders and Iran’s president roundly condemned Israel’s actions in its war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza, accusing it of crimes and terrorism against the Palestinian people.
But the outcome of the summit also highlighted regional divisions over how to respond to the war, even as fears mount that it could draw in other countries.
The final declaration on Saturday rejected Israeli assertions that it is acting in self-defense and demanded that the United Nations Security Council adopt “a decisive and binding resolution” to halt Israel’s “aggression.” It also called for an end to weapons sales to Israel and dismissed out of hand any future political resolution to the conflict that would keep Gaza separate from the West Bank.
At the same time, several nations rejected a push to respond to the war by threatening to disrupt oil supplies to Israel and its allies as well as severing the economic and diplomatic ties that some Arab League nations have with Israel.
According to Israel’s Channel 12, the more hardline draft resolution would have called to prevent the transfer of US equipment to Israel from bases in Arab countries; called to freeze all diplomatic and economic ties with Israel; threatened to use oil as leverage to put pressure on Israel a la the 1972 oil embargo; prevented flights to and from Israel using Arab countries’ air space; and formed a joint mission to put pressure on Western nations for a ceasefire.
The countries that voted against those clauses were Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco, Mauritania and Djibouti.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Gulf kingdom’s de facto ruler, said the kingdom “holds the occupation (Israeli) authorities responsible for the crimes committed against the Palestinian people.
“We are certain that the only way to guarantee security, peace and stability in the region is to end the occupation, siege, and the settlements,” he said of Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, on his first trip to Saudi Arabia since the two countries mended ties in March, said Islamic countries should designate the Israeli army a “terrorist organization” for its conduct in Gaza.
Raisi told the summit that the only solution to the conflict is a Palestinian state from the “river to the sea” — meaning an elimination of the State of Israel.
“We want to take a historic and decisive decision regarding what is happening in the Palestinian territories. Killing civilians and bombing hospitals are manifestations of Israeli crimes in Gaza. Today, everyone must decide which side they stand on,” he said, calling to arm the Palestinians.
He also urged sanctions and an energy boycott against Israel, for charges to be brought against Israel and the US at The Hague, and for international inspectors at Israel’s nuclear facilities.
The emergency meeting of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) comes more than a month into the war in Gaza, which broke out following Hamas’s bloody October 7 rampage through southern communities, in which Palestinian terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took over 240 hostages.
Israel’s subsequent aerial and ground offensive targeting Hamas infrastructure has killed over 11,000 people, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza. The figure cannot be verified independently and is believed to include members of terror groups and civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.
Israel says it is out to destroy Hamas and accuses the terror group of using civilians as human shields.
The Arab League and the OIC, a 57-member bloc that includes Iran, were originally meant to meet separately.
Arab diplomats told AFP the decision to merge the meetings came after Arab League delegations had failed to reach an agreement on a final statement.
Some countries, including Algeria and Lebanon, proposed responding to the devastation in Gaza by threatening to disrupt oil supplies to Israel and its allies as well as severing the economic and diplomatic ties that some Arab League nations have with Israel, the diplomats said.
However, at least three countries — including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which normalized ties with Israel in 2020 — rejected the proposal, according to the diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Prior to the meeting, the Palestinian terror group Islamic Jihad said it did not “expect anything” to come out of it, criticizing Arab leaders for the delay.
“We are not placing our hopes on such meetings, for we have seen their results over many years,” Mohammad al-Hindi, the terror group’s deputy secretary-general, told a press conference in Beirut.
“The fact that this conference will be held after 35 days (of war) is an indication of its outcomes.”
Israel and its main backer the United States have so far rebuffed demands for a ceasefire, saying it would be handing victory to Hamas. The position drew heavy criticism on Saturday.
“The US has prevented the ceasefire in Gaza and is expanding the scope of the war,” Raisi said before departing from Tehran.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the summit that “it is a shame that Western countries, which always talk about human rights and freedoms, remain silent in the face of the ongoing massacres in Palestine.”
He called on Israel to be held responsible for its “crimes,” and to “expose the nuclear weapons in the hands of Israel.”
Foreign estimates have claimed that Israel maintains a nuclear weapons cache ranging from dozens to hundreds of warheads. But Israel has never formally acknowledged possessing a nuclear arsenal, instead maintaining a policy of “nuclear ambiguity.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, for his part, said Washington had “the greatest influence on Israel” and “bears responsibility for the absence of a political solution” to the conflict.
He claimed the Palestinians were suffering “genocide” at the hands of Israel, and urged the UN Security Council to step in to stop the offensive in Gaza and promise the entry of aid into the Strip.
“We will not accept military and security solutions after all have failed, and after the occupation’s authorities have undermined the two-state solution and replaced it with the deepening of the settlements, annexation policy, ethnic cleansing and racial discrimination in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” he added.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called for an immediate ceasefire in the conflict and blasted what he alleged is “collective punishment in Gaza.”
“The international community carries responsibility for a ceasefire in Gaza. We call for an end to the forced displacement of Gaza residents and the entry of humanitarian aid,” he said while emphasizing a need for a two-state solution and an investigation into alleged violations of international law in the enclave.
Iran’s president in Riyadh
The roster of attendees on Saturday also included Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Syrian President Bashar Assad, who was welcomed back into the Arab fold this year after an extended rift over his country’s civil war.
Raisi is the first Iranian president to visit Saudi Arabia since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended an OIC meeting in 2012.
Iran backs Hamas as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, placing it at the center of concerns the war could expand.
The conflict has already fueled cross-border exchanges between the Israeli army and Hezbollah, and the Houthis have claimed responsibility for “ballistic missiles” the rebels said targeted southern Israel.
Analysts say Saudi Arabia feels vulnerable to potential attacks because of its close ties with Washington and the fact that it was considering normalizing ties with Israel before the war broke out.
Kim Ghattas, the author of a book on the Iran-Saudi rivalry, said during a panel organized by the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington that “the Saudis are hoping that the fact they didn’t normalize yet, and the fact that they have a channel to the Iranians, gives them some protection.”
And, she added, “the Iranians are hoping that the fact that they’re in touch with the Saudis and maintaining that channel, that it gives them some protection too.”