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Ending the war in Gaza is essential for regional security

Houthis march in Sanaa, Yemen on March 7, 2024, in support of Palestinians amid the war in Gaza. (AFP)
Houthis march in Sanaa, Yemen on March 7, 2024, in support of Palestinians amid the war in Gaza. (AFP)
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08 Mar 2024 03:03:05 GMT9
08 Mar 2024 03:03:05 GMT9

The Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers this week held several meetings in Riyadh with their counterparts from Egypt, Jordan and Morocco that were focused on the war in Gaza and its regional repercussions.

The Riyadh meetings were part of a flurry of gatherings aimed at de-escalation in the war and reaching a ceasefire before the holy month of Ramadan, which starts next week. The foreign ministers also discussed the long road ahead for a resolution of the underlying Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How to put out the fires ignited throughout the region under the fog of this devastating war was also high on the agenda.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister, chaired the meetings and then flew directly to Washington to continue efforts to break the deadlock in the Israel-Hamas talks.

The GCC statement following Sunday’s meetings called for an immediate ceasefire and strongly condemned Israel’s continued onslaught on Gaza, which has killed or injured more than 100,000 people, while displacing and starving almost the entire population. It rejected Israel’s pretexts for continuing the annihilation of Gaza and expressed disappointment at the UN Security Council’s failure to stop the war, in large part because of the US’ repeated vetoes. The statement also lamented the apparent double standard whereby the collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza is tolerated and their lives undervalued.

The lone UNSC resolution on the war, adopted in December, has not been implemented, as Israel has continued to block aid, attack aid convoys and murder Palestinians trying to reach them.

The GCC reiterated its call on the international community to protect the Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank. It expressed strong support for the UN Relief and Works Agency and called on donors to continue their funding of the vital organization.

The GCC foreign ministers stressed the need to convene an urgent international conference on the peace process

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

The GCC lauded South Africa’s efforts to pursue the genocide case against Israel before the International Court of Justice and called for full accountability for Israel’s action. It also applauded the filings with the court by many countries on the separate issue of the illegality of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories.

On the larger conflict, the ministers called on all nations to recognize the state of Palestine. The number now is about 140 countries, but since the current war started last October, several more have indicated they are ready to make the move. They called on the UNSC to speedily act to enable Palestine to become a full-fledged UN member state. They supported Saudi Arabia’s initiative to revive the peace process, in coordination with the Arab League and EU, stressing the need to convene an urgent international conference to expedite the matter.

Since the Gaza war started, Israel has escalated tensions in the West Bank by authorizing the building of more housing units on appropriated Palestinian lands. As Ramadan is near, the ministers expressed alarm at the possibility of a repetition of the annual escalation at Jerusalem’s holy sites, as Israel is planning to severely restrict the number of Palestinians who can pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month, while also allowing growing numbers of fanatical settlers to trespass and harass Muslim worshippers.

While focused on Israel’s war in Gaza and its escalations in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, the ministers also addressed escalations in other parts of the Middle East. Predictably, using Israel’s aggression as a pretext, Iran’s regional proxies and affiliated actors have escalated their destabilizing activities.

In the UAE islands long occupied by Iran, plans for the additional settlement of Iranians were recently announced. Mohammed Mokhber, Iran’s first vice president who is under US sanctions, announced on Jan. 11 the completion of a plan to “develop” the islands, including housing projects and other installations. This announcement was followed by an escalatory statement by President Ebrahim Raisi on Feb. 4. These developments, in addition to military exercises held on the occupied islands, have raised questions about Iran’s declared commitments to diplomacy and regional reconciliation.

Using Israel’s aggression as a pretext, Iran’s regional proxies and affiliated actors have escalated their destabilizing activities

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

In Iraq, there have been belligerent calls by Iran-affiliated parties questioning Kuwait’s independence, calling for the annulment of long-standing arrangements between the two countries regarding navigation in the Khor Abdullah channel and, absurdly, claiming a stake in the Durra gas field, located hundreds of kilometers away from Iraq and Iran and owned exclusively by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The GCC condemned the increasingly brazen attacks across the Jordan-Syria border by drug traffickers believed to be affiliated with pro-Iran militias operating in Syria. These attacks are undermining an accord reached with the Syrian government last May to combat drug trafficking.

In Yemen, the Houthis have escalated their attacks on shipping, disrupting trade flows in the Red Sea and causing economic havoc around the world. Attacks by the US and its partners have not been able to deter the Houthis, in part because they are conducted in isolation from the ongoing peace process in Yemen. The GCC called for “prompt” de-escalation, restraint and ensuring freedom of navigation.

It is clear that the longer the war continues in Gaza, the more likely it is that the regional security landscape will also unravel. While ending the Gaza conflict is an extremely important priority in itself, to end the suffering of the Palestinians who are on the receiving end of Israel’s massive war machine, de-escalation is also necessary to contain the conflict and prevent its contagion to other parts of the region.

Re-energizing the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians should be a key goal in the short term to prevent a repetition of the Gaza war, but the UN-mediated peace process in Yemen should also be a priority. Reconciliation efforts between Iran and its neighbors should pick up pace to find a modus vivendi for all regional players.

• 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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