Host Saudi tells global economic summit the world has failed Gaza

AFP , Sunday 28 Apr 2024

Saudi Arabia on Sunday said the international community has failed Gaza and reiterated its call for a Palestinian state at a global economic summit attended by a host of mediators.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan attends the World Economic Forum special meeting in
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan attends the World Economic Forum special meeting in Riyadh on April 28, 2024. AFP


"The situation in Gaza obviously is a catastrophe by every measure -- humanitarian, but also a complete failing of the existing political system to deal with that crisis," Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said during the first day of a Saudi-hosted World Economic Forum special meeting.

Only "a credible, irreversible path to a Palestinian state" will prevent the world from confronting "this same situation two, three, four years down the line," he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Palestinian leaders and high-ranking officials from other countries trying to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas are attending the summit in Riyadh, capital of the world's biggest crude oil exporter.

Speaking in Riyadh, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said the United States "is the only country capable" of preventing Israel's long-feared invasion of Rafah city in southern Gaza.

"We appeal to the United States of America to ask Israel to stop the Rafah operation," he said, warning it would harm and displace civilians, and be "the biggest disaster in the history of the Palestinian people".

'New momentum' in captives talks

Earlier Sunday, Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan called for regional "stability", warning of the effects of the war on global economic sentiment.

"I think cool-headed countries and leaders and people need to prevail," Jadaan said.

Diplomatic efforts to reach a long-sought-after truce and hostage-release deal in Gaza appeared to intensify, as Hamas said it would respond to Israel's latest proposal on Monday.

WEF president Borge Brende said Saturday there was "some new momentum now in the talks around the hostages, and also for... a possible way out of the impasse we are faced with in Gaza".

Israel is not taking part in the summit.

The US State Department said Blinken will "discuss ongoing efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza that secures the release of hostages".

Prince Faisal said any reconstruction plan for Gaza would need to be accompanied by a durable political solution to the conflict.

"This idea that we can talk about half measures and to discuss, 'Well where are the 2.5 million people of Gaza going to go?' without addressing how we make sure that something like this doesn't happen again, I think that's patently ridiculous," he said.

"And anybody who tries to take that approach I think is sincerely misguided."

Spotlight on Saudi

From the outset, Saudi Arabia has worked with other regional and global powers to try to contain the Israeli war on Gaza and avoid the type of conflagration that could derail its ambitious economic reform agenda known as Vision 2030.

The kingdom also remains in talks about a landmark deal under which it would recognise Israel for the first time while strengthening its security partnership with Washington, though analysts say the war has made it more difficult.

Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest shrines in Islam, is trying to open up to the world, luring business leaders and non-religious tourists.

Hosting international events such as the WEF meeting allows it to showcase social changes such as reintroducing cinemas and lifting a ban on women driving.

Yet questions persist about just how much of Vision 2030 will be achieved and when, with a special focus on signature projects such as NEOM, a planned futuristic megacity.

In December, Jadaan said officials had decided to push the timeframe for some major projects past 2030, without specifying which, though he also noted that others would be accelerated.

Saudi Arabia is projecting budget deficits through 2026, and GDP growth was nearly flat last year after several oil production cuts.

Jadaan stressed Sunday that non-oil GDP growth was "very healthy" at 4.4 per cent and that "Vision 2030 is about, actually, the non-oil GDP".

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