Why are Arab nations denying Palestinians the simplest solution of all?

Events of the past two months have highlighted an important truth: although Arab leaders have publicly condemned Israeli military operations in Gaza, they have no interest in allowing Palestinian refugees into their own countries. 

Their unwillingness to offer refuge to their Palestinian brethren stands in stark contrast to actions taken by their European counterparts following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Ultimately, more than 6 million Ukrainian refugees fled the bloodshed and were welcomed with open arms by citizens in Poland, Hungary, and other Central and Eastern European nations. 

As President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken try to dictate the rules of Israel’s war against Hamas, no one is advocating the most obvious solution of all. Why not allow Palestinians to flee their war torn territory to neighboring Arab nations, at least for the duration of the war? 

As it turns out, no Arab nations will have them — not even on a temporary basis. 

At an October news conference in Cairo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told reporters, “What is happening now in Gaza is an attempt to force civilian residents to take refuge and migrate to Egypt, which should not be accepted.

“Egypt rejects any attempt to resolve the Palestinian issue by military means or through the forced displacement of Palestinians from their land, which would come at the expense of the countries of the region,” al-Sisi said.

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly went even further. He declared, “We are ready to sacrifice millions of lives to protect our territory from any encroachment.” 

Jordan’s King Abdullah II agreed: “No refugees in Jordan, no refugees in Egypt.” 

The Associated Press summed up their opposition by saying that Jordan, which is already home to a large number of Palestinians, and Egypt, are concerned that Israel “wants to force a permanent expulsion of Palestinians into their countries,” a situation that would “nullify Palestinian demands for statehood.”

While that may be true, there is a more compelling – and understandable – reason for their refusal to provide refuge to displaced Palestinians: they are worried that Hamas, which is known for blending in with civilians, would gain a foothold in their countries. And aside from Qatar, no Arab nation wants Hamas, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, operating inside its borders. They rightly fear that the terrorist group’s presence would destabilize their countries and pose a serious threat to their national security. 

In a recent article, the Gatestone Institute’s Khaled Abu Toameh, a Jerusalem-based journalist, reminded us that in 2017, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing the country of providing support for Islamist terrorists, including Hamas. At the time, Saudi Arabia attributed its decision to Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region.” And a statement from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said, “All attempts to stop it [Qatar] from supporting terrorist groups failed.”

King Abdullah well remembers his father’s expulsion of thousands of Palestinians from Jordan following a September 1970 coup attempt by the Palestine Liberation Organization, an event better known as Black September. 

And al-Sisi is concerned that the flow of Palestinians into Sinai would include militants who would use it as a staging ground for attacks against Israel. The ensuing military action could easily upset the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

One can hardly blame Arab leaders for their hesitation when support for Hamas among Palestinians runs at such high levels. A poll released last month by the Arab World for Research and Development found that, despite the brutality of the Oct. 7 attacks, nearly 60% of Palestinians surveyed (both in the West Bank and in Gaza) “very much supported” the action. An additional 16% expressed “moderate” support for the massacre.

According to Haaretz, 76% said “Hamas was playing a positive role, while 98% said they feel some or great pride as a Palestinian. Just 13% of Palestinians opposed Hamas’ attack (21% in Gaza).” With loyalty numbers like these, is it any wonder Arab leaders don’t want Palestinians in their countries?

In his article, Toameh argued that Palestinians must “distance themselves from Hamas and other terrorist groups” and added that recognition of the legitimacy of the state of Israel “would benefit them immeasurably.” 

One of the reader responses to Toameh’s piece was especially insightful. Having spent many years working in the Middle East, the reader explained that the belief that “Arabs are a homogenous group is wrong in so many ways. But one thing they are almost unanimous on is that the Palestinians are at the bottom of the pecking order. Palestinians are seen as troublemakers, which in the volatile world of Arab politics, is undesirable. The fact they have laid themselves down at Hamas’s feet … makes them difficult to be supported by the Sunni States.” 

He continued: “Most Arabs wish that the Palestinians and Hamas would just go away. If Israel were to annex both Gaza and the West Bank and integrate these areas into Israel, the Arab countries would breathe a collective sigh of relief while at the same time [making] all the ‘right’ noises for the world’s stage. One thing the Arab governments will want is that Israel has the resolve to annihilate Hamas because it saves them a job they would dearly like to do themselves.”

Both Toameh’s article and his reader’s take provide an alternate lens with which to consider the current conflict. The Palestinians may actually be more responsible for their current plight than many are willing to admit. But the solution may require them to take actions they are unwilling to even consider.

Decoupling from their Hamas overlords is a daunting task to be sure. But their continued strong affiliation with the terrorist group will keep them down for generations to come. Maybe Israel can do for the Palestinians what they are incapable of doing for themselves.


A previous version of this article appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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4 thoughts on “Why are Arab nations denying Palestinians the simplest solution of all?”

      • And they see them so for good reason. Remember the parable of the scorpion and the frog? Everyone who’s opened a door to them has historically been repaid for it with coup attempt, assassination attempt, other terrorism or violent crime waves in general.

        The simple way would be for all concerned to BUY Sinai from Egypt and set ’em up there.

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