The recent events in Israel and the Gaza Strip have raised a number of questions as to the kind of third party and mechanisms that could play a constructive role in bringing some solutions to the crisis and prevent spill over. In the first weeks following the 7 October attacks, few external actors could pretend to have any bearing on either party, let alone be in a position to come up with a credible long-term vision. The US and Qatar have, nonetheless, played a key role in the negotiation of the process that led to a pause in the fighting and to the simultaneous release of Israeli hostages. Whether such a role can translate into longer-term political influence, remains to be seen though. Not only has the US weight on Israel’s policy proved to be limited, but its initial one-sided support of Israel’s right to self-defence, with little consideration for the fate of Palestinian civilians, has also created huge incomprehension in the Arab world. Another issue under consideration is whether any diplomatic process can take place with Hamas, and what alternative interlocutors can then possibly emerge.
International institutions struggle
In this context, international institutions will struggle to play any significant role, at least in the short run. This is mainly due to their lack of credibility in the eyes of one or the other party. The UN has traditionally been prominent in the region. Back in 1948, the very first UN observer mission was established in Israel and neighbouring Arab states to monitor the truce that followed the first Arab-Israeli war. Since then, four UN peacekeeping operations have been established in the region, including in Lebanon (UN Interim Force in Lebanon – UNIFIL), as well as in the Golan Heights (UN Disengagement Observe Force – UNDOF). The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has also been present in the Palestinian Territories since 1948 (with approximately 100 of its staff having been killed in Gaza over the last month).
This said, there are limits to what the UN can do in the current situation. On 27 October, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.” For its part, the Security Council has been largely paralyzed by the recurrent use of the veto on any text dealing with the matter. Since 1948, the US has used its veto on Israel matters more than 30 times, mainly to prevent the adoption of texts condemning Israel’s policies in the Palestinian Territories. In late October, a text put to the vote by Brazil was vetoed by the US, while a US draft was vetoed by Russia and China. The Security Council reached a consensus, though, on 15 November with a text (UN Security Council Resolution 2712) on which the US, Russia and the UK abstained. The text called for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a sufficient number of days to enable … the full, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access” for the competent agencies. It then tasked the UN Secretary-General to “identify options to effectively monitor the implementation of this resolution.” In the longer term, whether the UN can be an acceptable interlocutor for all parties is uncertain, yet the Organisation brings resources and expertise and offers a degree of impartiality that no other international actor provides. In the hypothetical perspective of having some sort of international presence providing both security and governance in Gaza after the current confrontation, the UN is likely to be part of the stakeholders.
Who else, if not the UN?
The ongoing conflict in Gaza has, once again, revealed the existence of a gap between the two ill-defined groups identified as the “West” and the “Global South”. The perception of double standards being applied by Northern countries regarding different categories of war crimes has certainly reinforced divisions within the international community. This begs the question of how countries or institutions of the so-called Global South can bring any constructive solution to the current crisis. Could the BRICS (made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), or the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), help with the matter? Several issues need to be considered here. One is that actors that will be in a position to play a role are the ones that can demonstrate a certain degree of credibility on both sides, which implies a dose of restraint in public statements and past political stance.
The issue of political cohesion of the Global South is also at stake. Whether, within the Global South, China and India can agree on a common vision, and incidentally accept not to be the leader of the Southern grouping, is uncertain. How Russia can play its card and regain some legitimacy on the international scene will also be interesting to watch. Furthermore, as of 2024, six new countries will join the BRICS: Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran. This will strengthen the visibility of the club and its aspiration to speak on behalf of the Global South, yet the expansion will also certainly hinder political cohesion. More specifically, the ability of a group of states, that includes Iran, to be seen as an interlocutor on the Israel-Palestine issue by the US and Israel will be certainly contested. This suggests that states, rather than groups of states, can play a role, and whether those states represent the Global South might be secondary. What is certain though, is that any diplomatic process will have to involve countries of the Global South, as no long-term solution can be found without them. This also requires the principled acceptation by all actors involved in any diplomatic process of the two-state solution. Traditional BRICS members have supported such a solution, yet Iran has not, nor has Hamas. This is where the BRICS might play a positive role. Before talks on what the two-state solution exactly means can then take place with the “Global North”.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.