The vicious cycle of violence between Israel and Palestinians has again resumed. As the clock ticks, it is becoming obvious that the recent eruption of hostilities may not have any precedent concerning the scale of ruthlessness, demolition, and human suffering in more than seven-decade-old conflict. Taking into account the fact that the latest escalation has occurred against the backdrop of the Middle East increasingly becoming an arena for great power competition, the trends spurred by the Hamas-Israel war are likely to have far-reaching implications for the intensifying US-China competition in the region.
The foremost casualty of the Hamas-Israel War is the realization of the broader objectives of the Abraham Accords: 1) normalization of Israel’s relationship with some Arab states under the US patronage, which would help preserve the US dominant position in the Middle East against the growing influence of China, Russia, and Iran; 2) the rebranding of US-led economic order in the Middle East to counter China’s deepening economic involvement in the region.
The 2020 Accords paved the way for the normalization of Israel’s relationship with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. Shortly afterward, Morocco and Sudan followed course.
The recent escalation, has prompted fundamental shifts in the regional geopolitical landscape. While the rapprochement with Israel was already a debatable subject for large segments of the Arab population given their emotional attachment to the Palestinian cause, the disturbing images of helpless Palestinians being subjected to horrific carnage and forced displacement by Israel make it extremely hard for some Muslim states to normalize ties with Israel.
Given the imminent ground invasion of Gaza by Israel — which would likely lead to protract urban warfare resulting in terrible suffering for Palestinian civilians and risks dragging other regional actors into the conflict — it will be extremely difficult for any Muslim country normalize ties with Israel.
The Biden administration’s attempts to further entrench US-led economic order in the Middle East have also been dealt a jolting blow. By promoting economic interdependence, Washington envisioned stabilizing the relationship between Israel and some Arab states and countering China’s expanding economic influence.
A key part of the economic integration plan was the recently announced India-Middle East Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEEC) — an interconnectivity initiative that aimed to connect India to ports in Europe transiting over-land via the Middle East also linking Israel. The proposed scheme comprised railway links, telecommunication cables, and clean energy corridors linking commercial hubs across the three regions: Asia, Middle East and Europe.
IMEEEC is considered the US-sponsored rival to China’s decade-old Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has been signed by the majority of countries in the Middle East and aims to create a Chinese-centered economic order evoking concerns in Washington. While there were already doubts about the economic viability of IMEEEC, after recent escalation in the Middle East, the fate of IMEEEC lies in the doldrums and there is little probability that the ambitious project can be realized amid new ground realities of the region.
This is not the only fallout of the recent escalation in the Israel-Palestine conflict for the US-China great power competition. China has been endeavoring to pitch itself as a player in the Israel-Palestine conflict. In June, Xi Jinping hosted the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmood Abbas with much pomp and offered to mediate between rival Palestinian factions and facilitate peace talks with Israel.
After the recent escalation, China termed Palestine “at the heart of the Middle East issue” and blamed the “historical injustice” to Palestinians and the denial of their “lawful national rights” as the underlying cause for the recent escalation.
Beijing called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state for lasting peace in the region and strongly advocated safeguarding the rights of Palestinians. Given that the US position as a mediator in the Israel-Palestine conflict has weakened over time due to its unequivocal support for Israel, China perceives an opportunity to present itself as a backer of Palestinians’ rights thereby aiming to expand its geopolitical acceptability in the region at the cost of Washington’s regional influence.
Author’s Bio: Hamdan Khan is currently working as Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad. He is an alumnus of the National Defence University Islamabad and has previously worked for the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) and the Pakistan Council on China (PCC). Hamdan studies Global Affairs with a focus on Great-Power Politics, Chip Politics, Programs and Policies of Nuclear Weapons States, and Emerging Military Technologies.