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How the Gaza war has polarised the Global North and South

February 21, 2024 at 1:55 pm

Palestinians leave their homes and migrate to safe areas with their belongings as Israeli attacks continue on the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City, Gaza on February 20, 2024 [Dawoud Abo Alkas – Anadolu Agency]

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, the subsequent events widened the global divide in the international community towards major powers and solidified many of the developing countries’ geopolitical presence under the BRICS. With the ongoing war in Gaza, these fissures are being put to the test again.

From the beginning of the latest spike in the Israel-Palestine conflict, starting 7 October with Hamas’s attacks in Israel, the United States has remained firm in its support for the Jewish State by continuing to ship arms, approving aid and vetoing many UN Security Council resolutions that were aimed at bringing a halt to the fighting. It dismissed the claim that Israel is committing genocide as “meritless”, while expressing concerns about the civilian casualties in Gaza. A few days after the Hamas attacks, US President Joe Biden drew parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Hamas’s offensive in Israel that led to the killing of 1,200 innocent people.

“Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: they both want to completely annihilate a neighbouring democracy,” he said. The remarks were rejected and termed “unacceptable” by Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, stressed that talks centred on a two-state solution that could pave the way for a peaceful co-existence of Israel and Palestine were the only way forward in this conflict, once hostilities had ceased.

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China reiterated a similar stance, saying the key to lasting peace and security rests in the “realisation of the two-state solution and establishment of an independent State of Palestine.” Beijing has criticised Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and has been a consistent advocate of the Palestinian cause, falling short of criticising Hamas. It joined the 22-member Arab League in demanding a ceasefire, in the pursuit of a wider influence and much in line with the aspirations of most of the non-Western countries that are in favour of ending hostilities in Gaza and are sympathetic to the Palestinians. Developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, many of whom do not share the Eurocentric worldview, still reel from the remnants of colonialism and western oppression and see double standards of the US and Western powers in the handling of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the Palestinian question, in general. From Namibia criticising Germany for its support of Israel and never fully atoning to the genocide committed against the Namibian population, to Brazil recently recalling its ambassador to Israel in a diplomatic row, these countries do not seem to align with the West in this conflict.

The Western capitals, which are vocal in their support for Ukraine, were quick to condemn the 7 October attacks while backing Israel’s right to defend itself and their leaders even paid visits to the Jewish State in a sign of solidarity.  The leaders of five leading Western nations – the US, France, Germany, Britain and Italy – released a joint statement, two days after the attack, expressing steadfast support for the State of Israel and unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and its appalling acts of terrorism.  But the divisions in many of the EU States’ response to the crisis unfolding in the Middle East, four months on, have become apparent.

Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic remain some of the staunchest supporters of Israel in Europe. German leaders maintained, several times, that Germany’s only place is on Israel’s side, given their country’s history. Berlin decided to intervene in the genocide case against Israel, brought by South Africa, in front of the International Court of Justice. Meanwhile, Czech Prime Minister, Petr Fiala, termed his country “the voice of Israel in Europe”.  The Czech Republic was one of 14 countries voting against the UN General Assembly resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israeli war in the Gaza Strip. These leaders also refrain from scrutinising the Israeli response in Gaza, including extreme rhetoric from the far-right leaders — in a sharp contrast to their tone on the Russian onslaught with respect to violations of international law— urging humanitarian assistance for Palestinian civilians, but fully backing Israel’s right to fight and dismantle Hamas.

Ireland, Spain and statements from EU top diplomat, Joseph Borrell, were seen to be leaning in favour of the Palestinians, of late, after thousands of civilians have been killed. Borrell has pressed on the two-state solution and slammed the US for sending weapons to Israel, as the death toll mounts. The EU countries, except for Hungary, warned Israel against launching an offensive in Rafah, fearing catastrophic consequences. The EU faces an added challenge of combating growing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, which are major drawbacks of the ongoing situation in the Middle East, affecting communities. Concerns about Russia weaponising the differences over Gaza in the EU and increasing attacks on Ukraine are also legitimate. The soft power and diplomatic efforts through which Western leaders were trying to woo the Global South countries into supporting Ukraine are also at risk due to the ongoing situation in Gaza and an increasing number of fatalities.

The Western countries are getting isolated on the global stage as many in the Global South accuse them of an imperialist approach and double standards in their governments’ reactions and handling of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The trend has gained momentum since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine and with the emergence of the BRICS, which is lately projecting itself as more of a geopolitical entity and a counter-balance to Western hegemony.

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