Arab summit calls for international forces in Gaza

The member countries of the Arab League eagerly presented a united front to strengthen their influence in the post-war period. This second summit meeting since the start of the war in Gaza over seven months ago highlighted their common position.

Arab summit calls for international forces in Gaza

Arab leaders and representatives gathered at Bahrain's Sakhir Palace for the 33rd Arab League Summit, May 16, 2024. (Credit: Bahrain News Agency/Reuters)

The primary objectives of the Arab League’s 33rd summit, held on Thursday in Bahrain more than seven months into the Gaza war, were to adopt a common position and progress in the post-war period.

The summit marked the organization’s second gathering since Oct 7, after an emergency meeting convened by Saudi Arabia last November with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s member countries.

Although other subjects were on the agenda, the crisis in the Palestinian enclave dominated the speeches and the final statement.

Key items included calls for an international conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue and support for the two-state solution, especially since the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly last Friday in favor of recognizing the Palestinian state, a resolution of symbolic significance.

In an attempt to regain control of the post-war situation, the Arab League countries called for an international protection and peacekeeping force in Gaza.

Riyadh in the lead

Hosting the latest Arab League summit, Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) opened the proceedings by reaffirming his support for a Palestinian state and its international recognition.

Saudi Arabia, the guardian of Islam’s two holy destinations, now considers this a prerequisite for any normalization with Israel.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is scheduled to visit the kingdom in the coming days before traveling to Israel to advance this issue. Since Oct. 7, Saudi Arabia has intensified its demands, calling for a cease-fire in the enclave and a firm commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“The international community must halt the brutal aggression against our Palestinian brothers,” MBS said at the Sakhir Palace. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi later echoed these sentiments.

“Israel continues to evade its responsibilities and efforts to achieve a cease-fire in Gaza,” said Sisi, who recently convened a committee of legal experts to assess retaliatory measures against Israel after its offensive on Rafah. This action threatens security and sovereignty in the Philadelphi Corridor, as reported by the Emirati media outlet The National.

The prospect of a truce remains distant, with talks suspended and American threats to halt arms deliveries to Israel having failed to prevent an offensive on Rafah. Nearly one and a half million Gazans have sought refuge in the area.

Before handing over to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, MBS also called on Thursday to cease “any activity that jeopardizes maritime navigation.” This plea came after the US authorized resuming peace negotiations with Yemen’s Houthi rebels. These negotiations had been stalled since December when the group intensified its attacks on ships in the Red Sea, as reported by The Guardian.

The shift in US strategy came after the Yemeni group expressed intention to escalate its strikes, which were not effectively curbed by the activities of a US-led military coalition.

Common position

Recalling the challenging circumstances of this summit, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa called for “the urgent formulation of a common Arab and international position” to “stop the hemorrhage of wars and bring about a just and definitive peaceful solution.”

Bahrain undertook diplomatic efforts in the lead-up to the conference to present a unified Arab stance in the final declaration, particularly regarding the Palestinian issue, as reported by the daily Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday.

A foreign ministry official also told the Saudi newspaper that Manama was “determined to host an international peace conference ... as part of Arab and international efforts.”

Putting forward a previously controversial position, the Bahrain declaration called for “the deployment of international protection and peacekeeping forces affiliated with the United Nations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory until the implementation of the two-state solution.”

The issue of the post-war period in Gaza remains a point of friction among the various stakeholders involved.

The Arab countries would like to see a multinational force led by the United States. However, the US is reluctant to deploy soldiers to Gaza, Israel intends to continue its military operations even after such a force is established and the Arab nations refuse to provide cover for Israel.

While the idea of Arab participation in an international force has gained traction, the two-state solution is once again being used as leverage to pressure Israel. The Israeli government remains resistant to discussing the post-war period, despite increasing internal criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and War Cabinet member Benny Gantz.


During the summit, Jordan’s King Abdullah II once again rejected “the displacement of Palestinians from their land and the separation of Gaza from the West Bank,” concluding his speech with a thinly veiled criticism of Iran and its regional affiliates.

“We are faced with criminal gangs and militias that traffic in arms and drugs,” he denounced, while the kingdom had announced a few days earlier that it had foiled an attempt to destabilize the country and arrested people linked to the Hamas movement, supported by Tehran.

In the same vein, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas criticized the Islamist movement in Bahrain for providing “pretexts” to Israel for its military operation in Gaza on Oct. 7. This criticism came as Abbas seeks to maintain his power amid growing popular discontent and the rising popularity of his rival in the West Bank.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned “the collective punishment of the Palestinian people” as well as the “abominable attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7.” He called for “an immediate humanitarian cease-fire” and “the unconditional release of all hostages.”

The international leader also held bilateral talks with several leaders, including MBS.

MBS, asserting himself as the leader of the Arab world, also held talks with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, whose reintegration into the Arab League in 2023 he had facilitated. However, Assad did not speak publicly at the leaders’ meeting.

Pro-government Syrian media explained that Assad’s silence was due to his refusal to speak for just a few minutes as scheduled. However, some observers noted Syria’s embarrassment since Oct. 7, remaining on the sidelines of the conflict, while the US and Israel reportedly warned Damascus to stay away.

For the second year in a row, Emirati President Mohammad bin Zayed was notably absent from the Arab summit, choosing to send two vice presidents. As a leading proponent of the Abraham Accords on normalization with Israel, Abu Dhabi has been seen as too timid in its stance toward its Israeli partner at the start of the war.

In addition to Gaza, other regional issues were discussed at the summit. There was a focus on solidarity with Lebanon, which has been mired in a severe political and economic crisis since 2019. The latest developments in Syria following the country’s reintegration into the Arab fold were also addressed. The conflict in Sudan was another key topic, with many observers fearing a new genocide in Darfur amidst a worsening humanitarian situation.

The situation in Libya was discussed as well, where the International Criminal Court has announced it will conclude its investigation into war crimes by the end of 2025 and then proceed to the judicial phase. Lastly, the Yemeni issue was brought up, with potential negotiations on the horizon as the United States plans to reduce its presence in regional waters within the next few months.

This article was originally published in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translated by Sahar Ghoussoub.

The primary objectives of the Arab League’s 33rd summit, held on Thursday in Bahrain more than seven months into the Gaza war, were to adopt a common position and progress in the post-war period. The summit marked the organization’s second gathering since Oct 7, after an emergency meeting convened by Saudi Arabia last November with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s member...