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Public outraged over Gaza, but Arab governments stay silent

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has a way of unifying the Arab public in support of the Palestinians, but their respective governments’ positions vary widely.

While the conflict on Gaza is physically limited to the Israeli army and Gaza-based resistance movements, the war and its aftermath will have a much larger geopolitical impact. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has a way of unifying warring groups and opposing parties, especially among countries that have witnessed injustice and people who feel for the underdog.

In the Arab world, impromptu demonstrations have taken place in most Arab capitals in support of the people of Gaza. Around the world in locations as far away as South Africa, Chile, Indonesia, Japan and London, demonstrations have taken place in solidarity with the Palestinians.

South Africans have begun a campaign demanding the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. On social media, various groups have organized global hashtag campaigns such as #gazaunderattack that have trended across the world.

The Arab media, which has been divided over issues such as Egypt and Syria, appears united in representing the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and exposing the Israeli actions as an assault on a trapped and besieged population.

But while the public has been largely unified in expressing solidarity with the Palestinians, the positions of governments have varied based on their stance toward the Muslim Brotherhood. Nowhere was this discrepancy reflected more clearly than in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where a number of prominent politicians and pundits have made negative remarks about Hamas and its actions. Some of the region’s major countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who are opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, have been relatively silent on the situation in Gaza, aside from their humanitarian organizations providing medical and other support to Gazans.

Egypt's lackluster cease-fire offer, made known to Hamas only through the media, was another reflection of this divide between governments and people. Egyptians have largely expressed solidarity with Gaza, despite Egyptian courts declaring Hamas an illegal organization. The administration of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has refused to connect directly with the Islamist movement. Ironically, the Egyptians have been communicating with Islamic Jihad but have refused to deal with Hamas, which they blame for the military and political chaos that befell Egypt following the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi.

Some Arab media outlets have interpreted Egypt's bland offer as a trap, an attempt to further delegitimize Hamas. Israel, which quickly accepted it, wasted little time in noting that Israel and Egypt see eye to eye on Hamas.

The reluctance of major regional countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt to take a bold mediator position to end the assault on Gaza has given other regional parties an opportunity to step in. Turkey as well as Qatar, which has good relations with Hamas, Israel and the United States, are trying to take up the role that Egypt usually plays, but both have been rebuffed by Israel. The United States has also tried to mediate the conflict, even though its administration has made it clear that it supports Israel’s right to defend itself.

The absence of any credible mediators that can help put an end to the violence has opened a window of opportunity to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Although Abbas is seen as having little influence on Hamas and others who differ from him ideologically, he might be able to bridge the gap between Hamas and Israel due to his relations with Egypt and the United States.

The war on Gaza seems to have overshadowed major regional conflicts, including the continued rule of the Sunni Islamists in Iraq and the swearing in of President Bashar al-Assad for a third seven-year term in Syria, as well as the problems in Libya and Yemen.

Gaza might be small and besieged, but its influence is much wider than its geography and numbers.

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