Middle East priorities at the UN

Doaa El-Bey , Wednesday 20 Sep 2023

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still the main and most pressing issue in the Middle East, and at their meeting on reviving the Middle East Peace Process held on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly meetings in New York (UNGA78), Egyptian, Arab and European ministers reiterated that the two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region.

Egypt and the UN


Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri stressed that a just peace based on the two-state solution is the only basis for achieving the peace and coexistence that the peoples of the region are looking forward to.

While he said that further efforts must be exerted to reach a two-state solution, he also highlighted in his address to the UN meeting that any future vision for a solution should be based on “establishing an independent and viable Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The other attendees expressed their concerns about the latest developments in the Palestinian territories and noted that the situation on the ground has deteriorated.

Josep Borrell, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs, said that a result of the meeting was the strong commitment to the two-state solution. “There isn’t another viable solution. There’s no alternative to it, so we’ll continue working towards it. I can’t say everything has been solved, but it’s a good starting point,” he said.

He said that three senior-level working groups would be launched in Brussels next month that are expected to look at bilateral, multilateral, and regional approaches to finding a solution to the Palestinian issue.

The meeting was co-hosted by the EU, the Arab League, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.

The first of the Oslo Accords, known as Oslo I, was signed 30 years ago in September 1993 and saw the Israeli and Palestinian leadership recognise each other for the first time. Both sides also pledged to end their decades-long conflict.

However, the two parties have not managed to end the conflict since, and the Israelis have been imposing de facto conditions on the ground by building more Israeli settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories.

On Sunday, hundreds of Israeli extremists stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam which is located in the Old City of occupied Jerusalem, to mark the Jewish New Year and perform religious rituals.

Egypt called on the Israeli authorities to immediately halt the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was carried out under Israeli police protection, according to a statement issued by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Monday.

The issue of the Palestinian refugees will be raised during a meeting of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) that is to be organised by Sweden and Jordan during the UNGA meetings.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini pointed to the urgent financial needs of the agency. He said that it needs between $170 and $190 million to maintain the health, education, and other vital services it offers to Palestinian refugees and another $75 million for food services in the Gaza Strip.

He is expected to ask the meeting for an alternate path that would place the Palestinian refugees at the centre of concerns in order to safeguard their rights.

The UNGA this year is being held under the theme of “Rebuilding Trust and Reviving Global Solidarity” in order to strengthen joint action towards achieving the 2030 Agenda and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as peace, prosperity, and development for all.

Shoukri will address the General Assembly on 23 September.

The pressing situation in Sudan has also been highlighted in the UNGA meetings this year. It was discussed during the ministerial meeting of neighbouring countries of Sudan and the ministerial meeting to support the humanitarian response in Sudan and the region, which Egypt organised in cooperation with some international partners.

Tensions between Sudan’s military, led by General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), commanded by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, burst into open fighting five months ago.

The conflict has reduced Khartoum to an urban warzone between the two groups. More than 4,000 people have been killed, according to August figures from the UN. However, the real toll is expected to be much higher.

Shoukri also took part in the Arab Consultation Meeting that is held every year during the UNGA and aims to follow up and coordinate the positions of the Arab countries on different world issues.

This year’s meeting saw a briefing on the latest developments in the Palestinian Territories presented by the Palestinian foreign minister.

The Arab foreign ministers attending the meeting highlighted the importance of coordinating Arab stands regarding voting in the UN General Assembly, especially in resolutions related to the Palestinian issue.

Other important meetings that Shoukri will attend include the meeting of the Tripartite Mechanism of Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan. The meeting will provide room to follow up on cooperation and strategic integration projects between the three countries.

The foreign ministers of the three countries will also coordinate and consult on various regional and international issues of common interest in order to preserve the unity of the Arab world and maintain the security and stability of the countries and peoples of the region. Their last meeting was in Cairo last month.  

The other tripartite meeting that Shoukri will attend is one between Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece. The three countries have held several meetings over recent years at the highest levels to discuss boosting economic ties and cooperation in the field of energy in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Their meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA this year is to discuss further cooperation on the bilateral as well as the trilateral levels.

On the bilateral level, Shoukri also met with his British, Irish, and Albanian counterparts. He is expected to meet other foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UNGA.

The UNGA meeting this year will emphasise the importance of sustainable development and climate-related issues at the Sustainable Development Goals Summit, the Climate Ambition Summit, and ministerial meeting on loss and damage related to climate change.

Shoukri has taken part or will take part in all these meetings.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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