King Abdullah pleads for end to Gaza war on visit to Washington

Jordanian king reflects growing Arab concern over the prospect of an all-out Israeli assault on Rafah where 1.4 million Gazans have taken refuge

Wide gaps in the Arab-US approach to the Gaza war remained after King Abdullah of Jordan’s visit to Washington on Monday.

As the first Arab ruler to visit the White House since the October 7th Hamas-led attack on Israel, the king said on behalf of the Arabs, “We cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah”, where 1.4 million Gazans have taken refuge.

“It is certain to create another humanitarian catastrophe. We cannot stand by and let this continue. We need a lasting ceasefire now. This war must end,” he said following his meeting with US president Joe Biden.

Having refused to call for a permanent ceasefire since the war began, Biden expressed the view that a “major military operation in Rafah” could proceed if Israel made a “credible plan to ensure the safety and support of more than one million people sheltering there”.


United Nations officials and humanitarian agencies have warned against trying to relocate 1.4 million repeatedly displaced Gazans in advance of an Israeli assault on Rafah.

Biden has accepted other demands put forward last week during a meeting in Riyadh of foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar and the Emirates, and a Palestinian envoy.

The ministers called for protection of Palestinian civilians, rejection of forced displacement of Gazans, and an end to Israeli restrictions on humanitarian aid.

But the US president has not resumed funding for UNRWA, which cares for 5.7 million Palestinian refugees in the region. US and western contributions were suspended after Israel said Hamas fighters had infiltrated the agency.

Like the Arabs, Biden has called for the postwar emergence of a Palestinian state in territory occupied by Israel in 1967.

But this has been vehemently rejected by Israel, which has planted 750,000 settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and has threatened to remain in Gaza to foil this project.

Arab rulers are under heavy popular pressure not only to end the war but also reject relations with Israel and distance themselves from the US.

Having concluded the only Arab peace treaties with Israel, both Jordan and Egypt feel the pressure acutely. However, Amman depends on $1 billion in US economic aid while Egypt receives $1 billion in US military aid and $125 million in US economic assistance.

Meanwhile, the Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan face popular rejection of agreements with Israel signed in 2020 aimed at normalising relations.

Arab views on the Gaza war were highlighted last week in an opinion poll conducted between December 12th and January 5th among 8,000 respondents in 16 countries by the independent, non-profit Washington-based Arab Centre for Research.

While majorities in most Arab countries viewed negatively their own governments’ responses to the Gaza war, 94 per cent viewed US policies to be bad, and 82 per cent very bad.

More than half (51 per cent) said US policies were the most threatening to the security and stability of the Arab world. This was nearly double the number (26 per cent) of those who regarded Israel’s policies as most threatening. Four-fifths (81 per cent) did not regard as serious US pledges to establish a Palestinian state.

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