Diplomacy Now – Edition 7, October 2023 – ‘What Diplomacy for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?’

As Israel continues to bomb Gaza and anti-war protestors take to the streets of major capitals and beyond, there is still no ceasefire in sight a month after Israel waged war against Gaza after the October 7 Hamas attacks.

Despite failures of the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to get into Gaza, the General Assembly voted overwhelming in favor of a humanitarian truce. The US continue to block any action in the Security Council to allow for a ceasefire. The UNSC vote again illustrated the discord between the actions of the dominant global powers, particularly the US, and the views of the world at large on how the new chapter in this conflict should be handled. Again, as was the case with the Russia-Ukraine war, the UN hasn’t stepped up to lead the way in negotiating a peaceful resolution. Sadly, the UN is largely becoming a meetings servicing organization and a collection of humanitarian agencies. Its peace and security role is in deep decline.

While the conflict marches on, with more than 10,000 killed and no end in sight, a critical eye is being turned toward US diplomacy in the region. An essay by Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, published shortly before the war, in which he wrote that ‘the region is quieter than it has been for decades,’ and that ‘we have de-escalated the crisis in Gaza,’ illustrates how this administration was in a bubble. The Biden administration enthusiastically adopted the Trump-Kushner Abraham Accords that sought to push forward normalization of diplomatic ties between Arab regimes and the Netanyahu government, as a panacea for peace in the Middle East, without addressing the Palestinian issue. This approach has proven to be a failure.   

For decades the US has been the chief diplomatic broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but with Biden’s unconditional political, diplomatic and military support for Israel it is clear his administration will never be recognized as a neutral negotiator by the Palestinians or the Arab states. The US monopoly over “the peace process” has come to an end.

The war on Gaza will likely not end anytime soon, and could escalate in the wider region, drawing in other actors. However, when the dust settles, the world will be calling for a peaceful settlement, which is the only way to end a century-long vicious cycle of violence. In this context, we need to consider why both the Oslo and Abraham Accords have not only failed to chart a new peace in the Middle East but have made things worse. Critical questions must be asked about who should lead or facilitate a new peace process, which parties should be at the table, how they should be represented, and what ought to be the goals and expected outcomes. Furthermore, questions should be asked about whether the two-state solution mantra is still viable and whether there might be other alternatives.

For this edition of Diplomacy Now, four authors, who are experts on the conflict and from the region, seek to answer these questions, with a Lebanese author exploring what the war might mean for the deep political crisis in neighboring Lebanon. We hope to start the ball rolling on a debate about the diplomatic way forward in this conflict and plan to run other articles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it continues.

As with every edition the views expressed by these authors are not all necessarily our own. However, ICDI remains committed to the ethos and philosophy that open debate, dialogue, diplomacy and mediation, rather than armed fighting and war, offer the way forward to resolving any conflict.

Thank you for reading Diplomacy Now and we welcome your feedback at diplomacynow@dialogueinitiatives.org.

Jamal Benomar
Chair of ICDI 

The United Nations Fails in Palestine, Again

Mouin Rabbani, a specialist on the Arab-Israeli conflict, takes aim at the Secretary-General Antònio Gutteres, for double standards for failing to hold Israel responsible for the thousands of children and civilians and 89 UN workers who have been killed during the conflict and to push for a ceasefire. “Given that Guterres was describing, in detail, a calamity of apocalyptic proportions, one might have expected him to at least specify who had been eradicating the lives of children in the Gaza Strip with wild abandon for an entire month, and to unreservedly condemn the killing of unprecedented numbers of his staff,” he writes.

Rabbani underlines Gutteres comparatively strong words towards Russia on the invasion of Ukraine and argues that the ongoing conflict in Gaza is “a fatal blow to the rules-based international order.” “The UN leadership’s response to this crisis, and particularly its refusal to demand a measure as simple as an end to hostilities that according to the Secretary-General has transformed the Gaza Strip into a “graveyard for children,” may yet leave a stain on the world body from which it will be unable to recover.”

The World Needs a New Approach to Peacemaking After the Gaza War

Michael Schaeffer, director of research for Israel-Palestine at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), argues the tragic war in Gaza could pave the way for a more meaningful diplomatic engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “This war, however, could create openings for a different international approach. If Israel destroys Hamas’s military capabilities, it will find itself without of any immediate security threat from the Palestinians.”

However, a new approach would largely depend on the willingness of the international community to compel Israel to the negotiating table, through exerting the same kinds of diplomatic pressure applied to Russia in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, and South Africa’s apartheid regime in the 1960s. “In the unlikely scenario that the international community does, however, decide to apply real pressure on Israel, that pressure must be accompanied by one very clear demand: that Israel end the occupation and dismantle its apartheid regime,” he writes.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Beyond the Oslo and Abraham Accords

Moroccan professor Mohammed D. Cherkaoui explores the consequences of the conflict and potential regional humanitarian catastrophe that could follow, along with the failures of the Olso and Abraham Accords to bring lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Cherkaoui argues that Biden’s support of Israel’s plans to eliminate Hamas are short-sighted, particularly given how deep rooted and influential the complex organization is in both in Gaza and the West Bank. “Similar movements such as Sadrist Movement led by Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan have not disappeared from the political map. Consequently, there has been a paradigm shift in Middle Eastern politics as these non-state actors have outperformed local states in altering the balance of power,” Cherkaoui argues. “There is an overdue need for a shift from the laid-back conflict management approach to a more active and morally focused approach,” he adds and outlines recommendations for a new United Nations-led approach to ending the conflict.

Gaza Conflict Freezes Efforts to Overcome the Lebanese Presidential Stalemate

Lebanese analyst Joe Macaron explores the potential political implications the conflict in Gaza could have for neighboring Lebanon, that has been without a president for the past year. “The latest round of conflict in Gaza and its possible implications for the Lebanese-Israeli border took center stage and froze domestic and international discussions that might have led to a potential breakthrough,” he writes. With influential global players such as France backing a Hezbollah supported presidential candidate and the US blocking this, Lebanon remains in limbo. “The way the conflict in Gaza ends will have an impact on Lebanon. A compromise to end this conflict might potentially facilitate the Lebanese presidential election while a potential confrontation could exacerbate the Lebanese crisis,” he writes. 

In the Israel-Gaza war, the UN Must Play a Bigger Political Role

Finally, Professor Mukesh Kapila a former senior official in the British government, United Nations, and International Red Cross and Red Crescent, explores the history of the UN’s involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict arguing that it must take a more active political role, rather than just a humanitarian one.

“Much of Gaza is likely to be flattened but will need rebuilding if people are to return – or else the evacuations are tantamount to ethnic cleansing. That must not happen, and it is UN agencies that will be central to rebuilding. The UN’s indispensable humanitarian and recovery role is not contested. What about its underplayed political function?” he writes.

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If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

Nelson Mandela

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