international analysis and commentary

The Israel-Gaza war and international diplomacy: multiple efforts, in random order

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There is much criticism of the international community’s failing role in mediating a ceasefire in the Israeli-Gaza war. However, it is not entirely true that diplomatic efforts have not been undertaken and the international community is impervious to the conflict. Instead, it is clear that all attempts, carried out in random order, has so far yielded little or no results.

Already in October 2023, the UN General Assembly adopted the first non-binding Resolution (GA ES-10/21) calling for a humanitarian truce with a vote of 120 for and 14 against. Predictably, most states supporting the truce were African and Asian. Again, the General Assembly reasserted its commitment to an immediate ceasefire by issuing a second Resolution in December (GA/12572), with 153 countries voting in favor, and only ten, mostly Western, against. The UN Secretary General António Guterres even resorted to his power to invoke Article 99 of the UN Charter to pressure the UN Security Council to convene, claiming that the Gaza war may “aggravate existing threats to international peace and security”. This was to no avail as the Security Council failed to adopt the ceasefire Resolution supported by 13 members because of the US veto and only approved enhanced humanitarian assistance to the civilian population (UNSC 2712/2023).

Looking specifically at the European countries, they did not coordinate either among themselves or with the EU Institutions. In December, French President Emmanuel Macron convened a conference on Gaza in Paris, but also dispatched his intelligence chief Bernard Émié to Beirut to push the Lebanese government to agree on a 40km demilitarized area along the Israeli border to allow 80,000 displaced Israelis to head back home and to relieve the military pressure on the Israeli Defense Forces in the North. Meanwhile, four other European countries (Spain, Ireland, Belgium and Malta) were calling for the EU to pick sides and pronounce favor of a humanitarian ceasefire – which Israel and the US clearly consider a major concession to Hamas.

 

In mid-January, two simultaneous, but separate attempts were made by the EU and the informal Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The latter condemned Israel’s military campaign on Gaza, called for a ceasefire and urged for humanitarian aid to be brought into the Strip. The Gaza war figured among the top priorities of the 47-article Kampala Declaration issued by the NAM’s 19th summit, a forum of 120 countries from the Global South not formally “aligned”, held in Uganda. On that occasion, the Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Attaf, called for NAM members to vote as a single group at the UNSC “with the aim of stopping the Israeli aggression and holding the occupier accountable”, making the Global South’s voice heard.

Almost concomitantly, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, spelled out a ten-point roadmap to solve the conflict, meant as a preparatory draft to be discussed in a future international peace conference and involving all the key actors, such as the EU, the US, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Arab League, and the United Nations. The document, yet neither published in detail nor circulated, revolves around the idea of reinstating a revived Palestinian Authority in Gaza after the war with the financial and, if needed, military assistance of the whole international community, ensuring no reduction of the current Gaza territory and preventing by all means both Israeli re-occupation and the return of Hamas.

 

Read also: The Gaza war: a new cleavage for Europe

 

Among the most significant takeaways of Borrel’s draft is the idea of a two-stage process, with the first implying an active involvement of the international community in convening a one-year international conference – mixed and multilateral in character, bringing together foreign ministers, international organizations and NGOs – designed to sketch a feasible and balanced postwar scenario providing “robust security assurances” for both Israel and the future Palestinian state. This step would be followed by a second stage in which it would be left for Israelis and Palestinians to finalize the peace plan’s details in direct talks. The conference would prioritize the safe return of all Israeli hostages and the tackling of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, collecting generous contributions by multiple international donors as preliminary requirements for its proceedings.

Around a week later, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) handed down its preliminary verdict in South Africa’s (alongside Comoros’, Djibouti’s, Bangladesh’s, and Bolivia’s) case against Israel, coming close to accusing it of committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza, but failing to impose the widely expected ceasefire. Instead, the ICJ required Israel “to take all possible measures to prevent genocidal acts and protect Palestinian civilians”, along with six other provisional measures, such as ensuring the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians and stamping out incitement to genocide (widespread within the army ranks and even among its current right-wing Cabinet ministers).

More recently, in February, during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s fifth visit to the Middle East since October, five Arab countries – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and, for the first time, Qatar – took the lead and met in Riyadh calling for an immediate ceasefire but also for “irreversible steps” towards a Palestinian state in exchange for a Saudi-Israel normalization deal and diplomatic recognition of Israel in the Arab world alongside the Arab Peace initiative’s lines, a Saudi Arabia’s proposal for an end to the Arab–Israeli conflict endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 and thereafter confirmed by all Arab League summits.

To this end, Britain’s foreign secretary David Cameron even aired the idea of the UK’s unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state to mark the “irreversible character” of the two-state solution – though it is unlikely that the US would follow suit.

However, Arab states’ activism could elicit a positive reaction from Israel, which is in an enduring search of regional recognition and in need of partners to manage the Gaza Strip and its reconstruction in the war aftermath. Indeed, Israel attaches great importance to the participation of the Gulf states in the diplomatic process, as most of those Sunni countries, with the single exception of Qatar, are supportive of marginalizing Hamas from power in the Strip, even floating the idea of its leadership’s possible exile to Algeria (Saudi Gulf Research Center, 19 November). If their basic conditions about a roadmap to Palestinian statehood are to be met, they could even provide a UN-backed temporary Arab peacekeeping force to be deployed in the Strip after the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces, to manage civilian life until elections are held, or until a technical interim government is established. Only Qatar is acting as the maverick, not conditioning its support to Palestinian statehood, but asking for Hamas to be still part of the political process.

 

Read also: Le monarchie del Golfo divise su Hamas

 

All endeavors, though, point in the same direction, i.e. that it is unrealistic to assume that Israelis and Palestinians will directly engage in talks to end the conflict, also considering the power gap between the two sides. Therefore, international involvement will be needed more than before and, with the US partially absorbed in its own domestic affairs in view of the November presidential elections, much more effort would be needed from the EU: the key is to coordinate with Arab and, possibly, NAM or other Global South partners willing to engage in conflict resolution to push ahead a single and coordinated diplomatic track, and no longer the haphazard and cacophonic attempts carried out until now.

In the new multilateral and pragmatic world order, it is essential for the EU and its member states to leverage their economic relations with Israel, and their donor relations with the Palestinian Authority in charge of the West Bank. In fact, confronted with a single international cohesive and realistic position, approved by both Western and non-Western states, and the related diplomatic and economic pressure, even Israel and the US could budge and start reconsidering the usefulness of levelling out Gaza with no alternative solution in sight.