The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a unique ability to make the world feel its effects. The reasons for this are many.
The conflict involves communities with global diasporas and adherents of global religions. The dispute is also deeply embedded in the ideological divides in the United States and elsewhere in the West. Today, support for Palestinians is part of the progressive left’s creed, just as unequivocal support for Israel is for that of Republicans and most — though not all — Democrats.
The bond is not merely sentimental. When Israel goes to war, in a way, so too does America. The U.S. may soon send Israel $2 billion dollars in supplemental military aid for its Gaza war. That’s on top of the $3 billion or so Israel gets annually.
Now, the ongoing war between Israel and Gaza is of course having profound effects on the Israelis and Palestinians. Hamas killed over 1,300 people in Israel, mainly civilians, including little children. Israel has killed over 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza as of Thursday, with over 60 percent of them innocent women and children. But if Israel continues to deny Gaza essential resources or pushes forward with a ground invasion, the Palestinian death toll will undoubtedly soar.
The human cost has already been enormous. And so too have been the ripple effects across the world.
Here are five ways in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is affecting different parts of the world.
Israel-Arab World Normalization On Hold Indefinitely
The Biden administration was in overdrive pushing for an Israel-Saudi Arabia normalization deal as Hamas launched its assault into southern Israel. It was by no means a done deal. But after an impasse in the summer, the process seemed to gain momentum in September when Washington became more open to Riyadh’s demands, including a bilateral security pact and a civil nuclear deal.
Given Saudi Arabia’s leadership status in the Muslim world, the opening of an Israeli embassy in Riyadh would have also opened doors to the Jewish state’s recognition by more Muslim-majority countries, including Indonesia and Pakistan.
But that process has come to a halt for as long as the killing in Gaza goes on. Right now countries like Saudi Arabia are devoting their resources toward crisis management and de-escalation — not normalization — while Israel is at war with other Arabs in Gaza. Those efforts may involve direct or backchannel talks with Israel.
Upheaval in ‘Stable’ Arab States?
The Arab-Israeli normalization process may not be the only political casualty of the Gaza war. An even more catastrophic death toll in Gaza would put Arab states in the hot seat as they may be seen as sitting by idly as Palestinians face the onslaught of the Israeli military.
While many Arab leaders have moved on from the Palestinian issue, the Arab public has not.
- Strong majorities in 14 Arab countries polled in 2022 by the Arab Center — including 90 percent of respondents in Jordan — said that the Palestinian cause concerns all Arabs and not just the Palestinians.
- Eighty-four percent — including a whopping 99 percent in Algeria — disapproved of recognition of Israel. An equal percentage identified Israel as a threat to the security and stability of the Arab world.
- In a separate poll by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy last year, strong majorities in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have negative views of the Abraham Accords.
So what happens in Palestine may not stay in Palestine. Many of the Arab world regimes that have seen stability in recent years could again feel popular pressure once again — maybe even an Arab Spring redux.
Bad News for Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has issued multiple statements of solidarity with Israel since the brutal assault by Hamas last week. When it comes to Washington, it makes good sense for Zelensky to show he’s on Israel’s side.
The U.S. is Ukraine’s largest donor by far, but aid to Ukraine has become a partisan issue here. Republicans are blocking further Ukraine funding. Some have even proposed diverting Ukraine aid to Israel. A prolonged Israeli offensive in Gaza would not only put Ukraine in competition with Israel over money, but also some materiel, including 155mm artillery shells.
Zelensky’s support for Tel Aviv could take some air out of the efforts by some Republicans to villainize him. But many in the Global South will likely view these efforts differently. Some may see Zelensky’s support for the Middle East’s most powerful military against a stateless people as one region’s David siding with another’s Goliath.
By courting the U.S. Congress through Israel, Zelensky undermines his messaging to the Global South that the Ukraine war is about preventing smaller states from being invaded by bigger ones.
Zelensky’s tilt toward Israel could, however, work with some parts of the Global South. Evangelical Christians in Brazil, Kenya, and Nigeria, for example, are heavily pro-Israel.
Terrorism Returns as Major Political Issue in the West
In recent years, the culture wars, migration, and the economy have surpassed terrorism as top issues for the public. But the incendiary rhetoric in the United States and Europe in the wake of the Hamas attack echoes the days after 9/11. Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, declared the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be a “religious war” and called on Israel to “level” Gaza.
Already, we are seeing curbs on pro-Palestinian expression in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — which, by extension, amount to the greater policing of Arabs and Muslims and curbs on their liberties.
In the U.S., conservative politicians like Kristi Noem have tried to tie the Israel-Palestine conflict to the southern border migrant crisis, suggesting that Hamas and other terrorist groups could try to infiltrate through Mexico. (Hamas is a territorially-restricted militant organization. It does not engage in acts of violence outside of historic Palestine — i.e. Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem.)
Jewish-Muslim Alliance on the Left Tested
The Trump era catalyzed the rise of alliances between young Jews and Muslims on the left. Groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Racial & Economic Justice were among the most vocal opponents of President Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban.” In recent years, young progressive Jews in the U.S. have emerged as vocal critics of Zionism, with some even abandoning the ideology.
Some may now be having second thoughts. In recent days, many non-Jews — including young Muslims — on the left have failed to muster simple words condemning the killing of civilians in Israel by Hamas. Some have even praised the Hamas attacks as part of a brutal “decolonization” process.
Ultra-progressive Jews may not be fans of Israel, but they probably do love their grandmothers. As Joshua Leifer, a contributing editor at the progressive Jewish Currents, rightly notes, the left’s “indifference to human suffering” in Israel is shocking.
Not only may political cooperation between Jewish and Muslim progressives take a hit, but it’s plausible that some progressive Jews may, on some issues, make a move back toward the political center — akin to how Trotskyites and other leftists became neo-conservatives in the 1960s and 1970s after being “mugged by reality.”
It’s worth noting that the incendiary rhetoric isn’t just coming from Muslim or leftist critics of Israel. American politicians are making calls for genocide against Palestinians live on television.
Congressman Max Miller, one of two Jewish Republicans in the House, spoke with glee on Fox News about Gaza getting “eviscerated.” Miller said Gaza will “go away here shortly as we’re going to turn that into a parking lot.” (It’s unclear who Miller means me “we” given that the U.S. isn’t directly bombing Gaza.)
The Twitter feed of Seth Riklin, president of the B’nai B’rith International — a respected Jewish charity founded in 1843 — also took on a genocidal tone. Riklin, whose Twitter profile includes his preferred pronouns and a peace symbol, spoke of “the end of Gaza” and “relocating” the two million civilians in Gaza to Iran. In an extremely dark post, Riklin proclaimed that the “people of Gaza…chose martyrdom” and that the Israeli Defense Forces “will deliver” it for them.
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.
He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.