Palestine Pulse

US-Kuwait ties strained over Israel's response to Gaza protests

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Article Summary
Kuwait has been vocal against Israel’s violence against Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border, much to the dismay of the United States.

The Great Return Marches continue along the Gaza Strip, and the death toll continues to rise. According to Gaza Ministry of Health figures released June 3, 123 people had been killed and some 13,000 wounded since the protests began at the end of March. Several international bodies have condemned Israel and demanded that the Palestinians be protected.

Kuwait, however, was one of the most vocal about what is happening in Gaza. During the UN Security Council meeting May 15, Kuwait's ambassador to the United Nations, Mansour al-Otaibi, proposed a draft resolution to protect Palestinian civilians and called for an international investigation into Israeli crimes.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley rejected the Kuwaiti position, accused the Security Council of double standards and defended Israel for exercising restraint in the face of what she called “Hamas’ provocation.”

Danny Danon, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, on May 20 condemned the Kuwaiti draft resolution as dangerous because it strengthens Hamas.

On June 1, the US vetoed the Kuwaiti draft resolution on the protection of Palestinian civilians, accusing it of bias, representing a unilateral view of the escalation in Gaza and being morally bankrupt.

However, during its emergency meeting on Gaza on June 13, the UN General Assembly approved an Arab-backed resolution condemning Israel and calling for the international protection of the Palestinian people; 120 member countries voted in favor of the text, eight against, and 45 abstained. This resolution goes along the lines of the Kuwaiti proposal that was thwarted by Washington on June 1.

Kuwait’s support for the Palestinians does not stop there. On May 30, Kuwait blocked a US draft statement distributed to the member states at the Security Council regarding the launching of rockets by the Palestinian resistance from Gaza toward Israel and condemning Hamas.

Essam Aldalis, a Hamas leader and deputy head of the political department in the politburo in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Kuwait’s recent positions have proved its integrity, whether at the level of its emir, the government, the parliament or the people who stood by the Palestinian people in international forums. Kuwait had honorable positions against normalization with the Zionist entity. We are well aware that the US has been exerting pressure to discourage such a position. We hope that Kuwait will remain steadfast in the face of Washington, which is seeking to prevent Kuwait from upholding the Palestinian issue.”

On May 31, Hamas praised Kuwait’s move to thwart the US draft statement, describing it as the true Arab position. Izzat Risheq, Hamas’ politburo member and head of its Arab relations bureau, thanked Kuwait on May 30, condemning the US draft text as being biased toward Israel.

After the diplomatic standoff between Kuwait and the United States over the events in Gaza, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai on June 6 quoted an unnamed US diplomat as saying that a few days before in Washington, Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US Salem al-Sabah met with Jared Kushner, senior adviser to and son-in-law of President Donald Trump. The source said it was a short and stormy meeting that lasted five minutes.

Kushner reportedly told Sabah that "the US administration is dissatisfied with Kuwait’s position on Gaza in the Security Council and shocked by its support of Hamas, although major Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt did not take this stance [and] have been working with us."

A source in the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry who refused to be named emphasized, in June 6 statements to the Kuwait News Agency, the depth of the joint relations with the United States as part of the strategic alliance and partnership between the two sides.

Raj Shah, the White House principal deputy press secretary, said June 9 that the meeting between Sabah and Kushner was positive and not stormy. The senior diplomats discussed the Middle East peace process and moves at the United Nations.

“There is official and popular consensus in Kuwait to support the Palestinians. However, after the US pressure during the meeting between Sabah and Kushner, Kuwait has backed off a little in its support toward Palestinians. I believe some Arab countries gave the US the green light to pressure Kuwait,” former Kuwaiti parliamentarian Mubarak al-Duwailah told Al-Monitor.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki visited Kuwait on June 5 to convey a message of gratitude from President Mahmoud Abbas to Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah for upholding the Palestinian cause.

A member of Fatah’s Central Committee who spoke with Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said, “Kuwait’s courageous stance at the Security Council is in direct conflict with the position of the US and some Arabs who do not want the Palestinian cause to disrupt the ongoing normalization between some Arab countries and Israel. We express serious concerns that the US and other Arab countries might pressure Kuwait and succeed in discouraging it from supporting the Palestinians.”

Kuwait’s stance on Gaza is close to the position of Iran, Qatar and Turkey, which are hostile to Israel, as opposed to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which are closer to Israel.

Egyptian journalist Ahmed al-Sharqawi wrote in the Qatari daily Al-Arab on June 9 that the meeting between Kushner and Sabah could mean that the United States is accusing Kuwait of supporting terrorism.

Meanwhile, Kuwaiti journalist Wali al-Ahmad wrote June 6 in Al-Rai that Kuwait’s stance on the Palestinian issue was not admired by some Arab parties — which he did not name — that started to “doubt us and stab us in the back.”

There are no diplomatic relations between Israel and Kuwait. The latter does not allow Israeli passport holders to enter its territories. Kuwaiti forces participated in the wars of 1967 and 1973 against Israel. Kuwait also boycotts Israeli products. In 2014, Kuwait also boycotted the Renewable Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi as Israel was participating in it.

In October, Kuwaiti parliament Speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim attacked his Israeli counterpart at the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting in Russia, calling him “the representative of the occupation, state terrorism and murderers of children.”

“Kuwait’s policy on Palestinians in international forums is in line with the decisions of the Arab foreign ministers. However, as a result of US pressure, Kuwait is now softening its tone against Israel. But I do not believe that this will affect the official and popular support of Palestinians in Kuwait,” Mahmoud al-Ajrami, former undersecretary of the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, told Al-Monitor.

While security tension is ongoing between Palestinians and Israel along the Gaza border, diplomatic and political tension continues between Washington and Kuwait. The political strain is likely to drag on between the two sides as long as there is no calm in the Palestinian territories, although both sides are not likely to escalate their dispute to not harm their common interests.

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Adnan Abu Amer heads the Political Science and Media Department of Umma University Open Education in Gaza, where he lectures on the history of the Palestinian cause, national security and Israel studies. He holds a doctorate in political history from Damascus University and has published a number of books on the contemporary history of the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict. He also works as a researcher and translator for a number of Arab and Western research centers and writes regularly for a number of Arab newspapers and magazines.

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