Summit for peace

Doaa El-Bey , Tuesday 24 Oct 2023

Egypt’s efforts to de-escalate the war in Gaza continue, reports Doaa El-Bey

The Cairo Summit for Peace saw a unified Arab stand in support of Palestine / photo: AP
The Cairo Summit for Peace saw a unified Arab stand in support of Palestine / photo: AP

 

On Monday, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi met with a bipartisan delegation from the US Senate during which he condemned Israel’s targeting of civilians, forced displacement of Palestinians and the collective punishment meted out in Gaza which has been bombarded continuously for three weeks.

President Al-Sisi stressed the urgent need to de-escalate the situation and move towards a comprehensive settlement that protects the rights of the Palestinian people and allows them to establish an independent state.

The meeting was attended by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and intelligence chief General Abbas Kamel. The US delegation was led by US Senator Lindsey Graham.

Al-Sisi had made the same points in a phone call with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte a day earlier. The two leaders agreed that any expansion of the conflict would pose a serious threat to regional stability and underlined the urgent need to deliver aid to the besieged Strip.

 

Shoukri at the UN

Shoukri took part in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) session on Tuesday, called for by Brazil in its capacity as council president for October.

During the session addressing Israel’s war on Gaza, Egypt’s top diplomat urged an immediate halt to Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians, presented Egypt’s views on preventing the situation spreading and engulfing the region and underlined the urgent necessity of allowing aid to reach the people in Gaza.

Brazil presented a draft resolution to the UNSC last week calling for a “humanitarian pause” in Israel’s war on Gaza and urging Israel to rescind its demands that civilian move to the south of the Strip. The resolution failed to pass. Twelve of the 15 UNSC members voted in favour, Russia and the United Kingdom abstained, while Washington exercised its veto.

 

Cairo Summit for Peace

Egypt’s attempts to contain the situation resulted in the Cairo Summit for Peace on Saturday. The summit discussed ways to end the violence in Gaza, protect the lives of civilians and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid. It rejected the forced displacement of Palestinians.

“A unified Arab position emerged, condemning Israeli escalation and calling for sustained humanitarian aid to Gaza. Ways to work towards peace in the region were discussed and there was a noticeable shift in the western narrative,” said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.

In his opening speech to the summit, President Al-Sisi condemned the targeting, killing and intimidation of all civilians, collective punishment, blockade, starvation and forced displacement.

“Anyone who believes that the Palestinian people, who are proud, steadfast and resilient, would be willing to abandon their land, even under occupation or bombardment, is mistaken,” he said.

The president reiterated calls to protect Palestinian civilians, asking “where is the equality between human lives without discrimination or double standards”.

“While there was a stampede to condemn the killing of innocent people in one place, we have witnessed incomprehensible delays in denouncing the same acts in another place,” said a statement issued by the presidency after the summit.

Al-Sisi invited leaders to work collectively on a roadmap, starting with guarantees for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, followed by immediate negotiations on achieving a ceasefire and then discussions on reviving the peace process.

In his address to the summit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned against Israel’s attempts to displace Palestinians. “We will not leave… we will remain on our Arab land,” he said.

“We have been demanding the entry of humanitarian aid since the first day of the Israeli aggression on Gaza but it was met with rejection.” Abbas said.

Rejecting the targeting of civilians by both sides, Abbas called for the release of all prisoners and detainees, saying that “the two-state solution and ending the occupation according to a clear timetable is the only solution to the current crisis”.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II denounced Israel’s brutal bombing of the Strip and called its collective punishment of Palestinians “a clear breach of international humanitarian law and a war crime”.

“The message that is being heard loud and clear in the Arab world is that the lives of Palestinians are considered less important than the lives of Israelis,” he told the summit.

Saudi Arabian Minister of Foreign Affairs Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud called for an immediate halt to Israel’s military escalation in Gaza and rejected any attempt to forcibly displace Palestinians.

“There must be an immediate halt to what is happening, protection for civilians and the release of all captives. We must find a peaceful solution to the crisis so that the region emerges from the spiral of constant violence,” he said.

Oman echoed the rejections of Israel’s military escalation in Gaza.

“We hold the international community responsible for reaching a comprehensive and just peace for the Palestinian cause,” Omani Deputy Prime Minister for Defence Shihab bin Tarik Al-Said told delegates to the summit.

King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain affirmed his support for the Palestinian people to establish an independent sovereign state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and according to UN resolutions.

“The two-state solution is the real guarantee for coexistence between the peoples of Palestine and Israel,” he said.

Kuwait’s Crown Prince Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah urged an immediate halt to Israel’s military operations and the creation of safe corridors for aid.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan told the summit that Ankara cannot tolerate additional suffering for the Palestinian people and warned that the ongoing conflict could have serious repercussions across the region.

“We need to revitalise every effort to return to a peace process based on a two-state solution and an independent and sovereign Palestinian state based on the 4 June 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital.”

Ahmed Abul Gheit, Arab League secretary-general, told the summit that the international community needed to concentrate on both a ceasefire and the delivery of aid.

“We reject the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and denounce statements that label some parties as barbaric and others as civilised,” he said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres pointed to the rights of Israelis as well as Palestinians, saying “Israelis must see their legitimate need for security materialise, and Palestinians must see their legitimate aspirations for an independent state realised, in line with United Nations resolutions, international law and previous agreements.”

He also said Hamas’ “assault” on Israel “can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people” and described the two-state solution as “the only realistic foundation for true peace and stability”.

“We are working nonstop with all parties to make it happen.”

That the summit did not end with a declaration or a final communique, says the diplomat, was a result of European leaders demanding a clear condemnation of Hamas and recognition of Israel’s right to self-defence while Arab participants focused on peace and humanitarian assistance.

President of the European Council Charles Michel reiterated Israel’s right to self-defence in accordance with international law while stressing the need to exert every effort to end the violence in Gaza.

“It is our responsibility to avoid the spread of this conflict, contain it and find common solutions which is the prime goal of this meeting,” Michel said.

Though European leaders attending the summit were keen to condemn Hamas and highlight Israel’s right to self-defence there was a change in their tone, a result

of the escalating number of civilian casualties and the impending humanitarian crisis in Gaza according to a note by Synerjies Center for International & Strategic Studies. “While affirming Israel’s right to self-defence, these leaders urged Israel to adhere to international law and emphasised the need for increased safeguards for Palestinian civilians,” said the note. “These points, which had received less emphasis in the initial days …now carried more significance.”

In her speech, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the situation in Gaza is a conflict with implications that extend far beyond the region. She noted that terrorism has had a destabilising impact on many states, called for support for innocent civilians during times of crisis and urged the launching of a political process to resolve the conflict based on a two-state solution.

Spain and Norway also stressed that a two-state solution is the only viable basis for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This summit must be the first step towards restoring peace in the region and breaking this terrible cycle of violence,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez stated during his address to the summit.

He said that it is essential to protect civilians while ensuring sustainable humanitarian access to Gaza and called on Hamas to release all hostages immediately. “For too many years, the international community thought we could live without paying too much attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Recent events have proved the falsity of such a presumption,” he continued. “But today we cannot postpone a solution.”

Norway’s Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide echoed the condemnations of Hamas’ attack, the full siege of Gaza and the loss of civilians lives on both sides before

calling for talks to resume towards a two-state solution.

“The time has come, as we remove the rubble of this terrible crisis and as we have hopefully managed to deter a further escalation, to go back to the table,” he said.

Save the Children, he noted, has estimated that a child dies every quarter of an hour in Gaza under Israel’s strikes. “This cannot go on,” he stressed.

Participants from the UK, France, Greece and Cyprus all condemned Hamas’ attack as “terrorist” yet characterised Israeli strikes that have killed more than 5,000 civilians, more than half of them children, as Israel’s right to self-defence.

 

Freeing hostages

Diplomatic efforts to free more than 200 people held hostage by Hamas intensified this week. Two hostages were released on Friday, followed by the freeing of two elderly Israeli women late on Monday, and there have been reports in the region that up to 50 more hostages may soon be released.

More than 220 are thought to have been taken captive during the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel in which 1,400 people were killed.

 

Aid to Gaza

The Rafah crossing opened on Saturday to allow the first shipment of aid to reach Gaza. So far, Israel has allowed just three convoys, a total of 55 trucks of medical supplies and humanitarian aid to pass through Rafah crossing. The UN says at least 100 trucks per day are needed for the 2.4 million Gazans deprived of food, fuel and other necessities.

Since the war started Israeli airstrikes have killed 5,000 Palestinians and injured more than 13,000, most of them women and children, and left more than a million Gazans without shelter.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 26 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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