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Across the Mideast, a Surge of Support for Palestinians as War Erupts in Gaza

When the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco announced that they were establishing relations with Israel in 2020, Emirati officials said the deals were symbols of peace and tolerance, while then President Donald J. Trump declared “the dawn of a new Middle East.”

Those words rang hollow to many in the region, though. Even in the countries that signed the deals, branded the Abraham Accords, support for the Palestinians — and enmity toward Israel over its decades-long occupation of their land — remained strong, particularly as Israel’s government expanded settlements in the Palestinian West Bank after the agreements.

On Saturday, when Palestinian gunmen from the blockaded territory of Gaza surged into Israel, carrying out the boldest attack in the country in decades, it set off an outpouring of support for the Palestinians across the region. In some quarters, there were celebrations — even as hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians were killed and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel threatened a “long and difficult war” ahead.

“This is the first time that we rejoice in this way for our Palestinian brothers,” said Abdul Majeed Abdullah Hassan, 70, who joined a rally with hundreds of people in the island kingdom of Bahrain. In the context of the Israeli occupation and blockade, the Hamas operation “warmed our hearts,” he said, calling his government’s deal to recognize Israel “shameful.”

Demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinians took place across the region, including in Bahrain, Morocco, Turkey, Yemen, Tunisia and Kuwait. In Lebanon, Hashem Safieddine, head of the executive council for the Iran-backed militia Hezbollah, delivered a fiery speech lauding “the era of armed resistance.” And in Egypt’s coastal city of Alexandria, a policeman opened fire on Israeli tourists, killing two Israelis and an Egyptian.

The ripples spreading from Gaza underscored what many officials, scholars and citizens in the region have been saying for years: The Palestinian cause is still a deeply felt rallying cry that shapes the contours of the Middle East, and Israel’s position in the region will remain unstable as long as its conflict with the Palestinians continues.

Diplomatic “normalization” agreements between Israel and Arab governments — even with the powerhouse of Saudi Arabia, where American officials have been pushing recently for normalization — will do little to change that, many regional analysts say.

“The current war is a stark reminder that lasting peace and prosperity in the region is only possible after resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Bader Al-Saif, a professor at Kuwait University. “No amount of heavy lifting or acrobatics in dealing with Israel on other files can sidestep or erase this simple fact.”

Many Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, have long insisted that the price of recognizing Israel must be the creation of a Palestinian state. But over the past decade, that calculus has shifted, as authoritarian leaders weigh negative public opinion toward a relationship with Israel against the economic and security benefits it could offer — and what they might be able to get from the United States in return.

The Biden administration has been pressing for a deal that would establish ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia in exchange for significant concessions to the kingdom. Saudi officials have demanded American security assurances and support for a civilian nuclear program.


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