The UN General Assembly is set to hold a meeting on 20 May to discuss the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, according to Ambassador Maged Abdel-Fattah, the Arab League representative to the UN.
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly by phone from New York on Monday, Abdel-Fattah said the Arab organisation had decided to pursue wider international support for the need for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
He added that the UN Security Council had “failed” to demand an immediate ceasefire because the US had opposed the motion.
The UN Security Council has held three sessions on the situation in the Middle East over recent weeks. The first two were closed sessions, in which the US rebuffed calls for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza conflict. An open session, which convened on Sunday morning, also ended with no position, “not even a press statement, again because of the position of the US,” Abdel-Fattah said.
As the Weekly went to press, the council was due to convene again. Abdel-Fattah was not hopeful about a press statement coming out of the meeting, however, despite the “very slight change” in the position of the US that had moved from fully supporting the Israeli attacks on Gaza in “self-defence” to offering some “support to the ceasefire”.
US President Joe Biden has spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu twice since the beginning of the attack against Gaza over a week ago. In the second call on Monday, arguably the bloodiest day of the Israeli assault on the already devastated Gaza Strip, Biden told Netanyahu that he supported a ceasefire.
“This is not enough to bring about a ceasefire to end the current crisis and what the Arab Group [at the UN] is trying to do here in New York is to push further and harder for a clear international position that calls for an immediate ceasefire,” Abdel-Fattah said.
According to Abdel-Fattah, the lobbying of the Arab Group at the UN is coordinated with the “intensive work” of the Arab League and leading Arab capitals. He added that Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit, and leading Arab capitals, especially Cairo and Jordan, with their close proximity and involvement in the Palestinian issue, were particularly involved.
Other leading Arab and Muslim capitals, including Riyadh, the initiator of the Arab Peace Initiative, and Ankara, with Turkey being the current chair of the UN General Assembly, are also hard at work in pursuit of a ceasefire.
According to Abdel-Fattah, the participation of the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, the current Arab member of the UN Security Council, and Algeria, the current chair of the Arab Group in New York, at the Sunday UN Security Council meeting that was held via videoconference and at subsequent ministerial meetings of both the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) last week and this week had “sent a clear message to the international organisation on the need to work towards a ceasefire and a resumption of the political process to break the cycle of violence.”
The Arab and Muslim countries would put across the same message during the upcoming UN General Assembly meeting, Abdel-Fattah said. He added that several Arab and Islamic foreign ministers were likely to take part in the meeting, which would be held in person at UN headquarters in New York.
“The world cannot sit by and watch while the crisis continues, and the world has to realise that a ceasefire has to be followed as soon as politically possible by a process of serious peace talks,” he said.
“Israel knows that there is no military solution to the problem. However, Netanyahu, who is keeping his eyes on internal political battles, is determined to maintain the status of Israel as the ultimate deterrent power,” Abdel-Fattah argued.
This, he added, “is why we need to get the world to put enough pressure on Netanyahu to come round to a ceasefire.”
“Instead, however, the US administration has green-lighted a [high-precision ammunition] arms deal to Israel in the midst of the current situation,” Abdel-Fattah said.
“I think it is very important for the US to reach out to the leading regional capitals who are involved in trying to secure a ceasefire to get a good sense of what can be done to spare the entire region from a situation that is out of control,” he said. “I think this kind of talks should take place at the leadership level.”
On Sunday, the US State Department said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had discussed the situation in the Middle East with the foreign ministers of Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia was willing to organise and host a meeting of the Middle East Quartet, the four Arab states with peace treaties with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians and Israelis in the pursuit of a ceasefire and a political process.
According to Abdel-Fattah, direct talks among leading and regional players are essential. Ultimately, he argued, Israel will not succumb to the UN and nor will it allow any UN intervention, either in the situation on the ground or in the political process.
“This is why we need active international diplomacy,” Abdel-Fattah stated.
“A political process is promptly needed, and any political process that does not offer an answer that the Palestinians will accept on Jerusalem will not go very far,” he said.
The failure to provide a satisfactory answer to the question of Jerusalem had defeated the work of former US president Bill Clinton, when he failed to secure a deal between the Palestinians and Israelis in the talks he held with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000.
“But we have to start somewhere; we have to secure a ceasefire and launch a political process,” Abdel-Fattah said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.