All eyes on US as GCC ministers condemn Israel’s war on Gaza

All eyes on US as GCC ministers condemn Israel’s war on Gaza

A smoke plume erupts during Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Oct. 19, 2023 (File/AFP)
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Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers on Tuesday held an extraordinary meeting in Muscat to discuss the new escalation in Israel’s war against Gaza. Before their meeting, they had an audience with Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, indicating the importance Oman attaches to the crisis. A week earlier, the issue was also high on the agenda of the annual meeting of the GCC-EU Joint Council of foreign ministers, which was also held in Muscat.

There was unreserved condemnation of the relentless and clearly indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets, including homes, schools and hospitals, resulting in the death and injury of thousands of innocent civilians. Such acts are clearly grave breaches of the rules of war.

The attack on one of Gaza’s main hospitals on Tuesday left hundreds dead and many more injured. While Israel has typically denied responsibility, Palestinians and international organizations have blamed Israeli attacks. “We are horrified by the recent Israeli bombing of Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, which was treating patients and hosting displaced Gazans. Hundreds of people have reportedly been killed,” Doctors Without Borders, which operates in Gaza, said. “It is absolutely unacceptable,” it added. Israel had already ordered the evacuation of all hospitals in northern Gaza, apparently as a prelude to attacking them.

The massacre at the hospital appeared to confirm Israel’s no holds barred policy in this war. On Oct. 10, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant gave his soldiers a free hand, saying: “We have removed every restriction.”

The GCC ministers expressed support for Gazans’ steadfastness and warned against any attempts to displace them

Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

In addition to the dead and injured, there are thousands missing, many believed to be buried alive in the rubble of toppled buildings. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans have been forced to flee at the urging of the Israeli army. For many, this flight is reminiscent of the mass expulsions of Palestinians from their land in 1948 and 1967. Israel has not allowed those refugees from previous wars to return to their homes, hence the reluctance to leave Gaza now, no matter how severe the conditions are. The GCC ministers expressed support for their steadfastness and warned against any attempts to displace or transfer them.

The ministers demanded an immediate ceasefire, a swift end to the blockade and unhindered access to relief supplies, water, food, medicine and fuel, as well as electricity, which Israel shut off at the start of its latest Gaza campaign.

The GCC ministers were even-handed, as they called on “all parties to the conflict” to protect civilians, reminding them of their obligations under international humanitarian law to take every measure to spare noncombatants. The ministers called for the release of innocent hostages and detainees, especially children, women, the sick and the elderly.

They announced an urgent humanitarian aid operation to help meet the needs of the Palestinians of Gaza, including immediate financial contributions of $100 million, while stressing the “need for this aid to reach Gaza urgently” and without hindrance in a reference to Israel’s decision to seal off the Gaza Strip, not allowing any relief supplies to reach it from the outside world. Long lines of aid convoys had formed at Egypt’s border with Gaza, prevented by Israel from entering despite pleas from around the world, including from the US and UN, to allow their passage. Since then, a limited easing of that blockade has been announced, but it is not enough.

To stop the vicious cycle of never-ending violence, the world needs to address Palestinians’ longing for a homeland

Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

While it is urgent to deal with the current war and devastation, it is important to deal with the underlying issues that have kept the conflict boiling beneath the surface for decades, with extreme flare-ups every few years. Thousands of innocents have died and many more injured in this conflict this year alone. Millions have been uprooted from their homes, living as refugees throughout the region or internally displaced within the boundaries of Palestine. To stop the vicious cycle of never-ending violence, the world needs to address Palestinians’ longing for a homeland, just like every other nation in the world.

The ministers therefore stressed the need to revive the moribund peace negotiations. It is regrettable that Israel has frustrated the repeated attempt to revive such talks, even when urged to do so by its closest allies, such as the US. Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia led the newest effort to reactivate that process, together with the EU, the Arab League, Egypt and Jordan. There is universal consensus on the parameters of the solution: Two states living side by side within secure borders along the 1967 lines, according to UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative, which was proposed by Saudi Arabia and supported by all Arab countries and many from outside the region.

The Palestinians’ right to dignity and self-determination is supported by nearly every country in the world, including the US, as President Joe Biden has made clear since the start of this war. Scores of countries have already recognized the state of Palestine.

For innocent young Palestinians, the fact that this conflict has continued for so many decades can be seen as a sign of the world’s indifference to their suffering, if not complicity in Israel’s refusal to recognize their legitimate rights. The failure of the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution on the current conflict only adds to those frustrations.

The reluctance of some of Israel’s closest allies to call for a ceasefire or to pressure Israel to stop its nihilistic war against defenseless civilians is inexplicable. There appears to be an implicit resignation that Israeli leaders need to vent their anger and “avenge” the atrocities committed against Israelis on Oct. 7. However, the civilian population of Gaza had nothing to do with those attacks and should not be made to pay for them.

The US is obviously the main country capable of restraining Israel and breaking the deadlock at the UN, which is caused by Washington’s veto. The US has clearly sided with Israel in this war, sending additional forces and military assets to the region as soon as the war began, along with material and ammunition to replenish Israel’s formidable arsenal. But the US can equally provide leadership in pushing Israel toward a political solution, first to the issues underlying the war against Gaza, but then to the wider Middle East peace process. All eyes are on Washington.

  • Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the Gulf Cooperation Council assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily represent the GCC. X: @abuhamad1
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