Published: 14:13, May 24, 2024
Arab Summit seeks UN peacekeepers
By Jan Yumul in Hong Kong and Xu Wei in Beijing

Leaders urge world community to fulfill obligations, demand immediate end to Israel’s attacks on Gaza

Displaced Palestinians walk around a puddle in front of destroyed buildings and tents in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 16, 2024, amid the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. (PHOTO / AFP)

The 33rd Arab Summit concluded with a “Bahrain Declaration” that called for international protection and deployment of United Nations peacekeeping forces in the occupied Palestinian territories until the implementation of the two-state solution.

Leaders of the 22-member Arab League called on May 16 for an immediate halt to Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip, complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, lifting of the siege, removal of all obstacles, and opening of all crossings to ensure the entry of adequate humanitarian aid into the Palestinian enclave.

It condemned Israeli control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing to tighten the siege on civilians in the Gaza Strip.

The declaration supported Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ call to convene an international peace conference and take irreversible steps to implement the two-state solution.

“It has now become critical to activate the Arab safety net, to boost the resilience of our people, and to enable the government to carry out its duties,” Abbas said at the summit.

Bahrain had called for a Middle East peace conference at the outset of the May 16 summit that would be dominated by the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has been raging in the Gaza Strip without a cease-fire in sight.

“(We) call for an international conference for peace in the Middle East, in addition to supporting full recognition of the State of Palestine and accepting its membership in the United Nations,” said Bahrain’s king.

The king was addressing fellow heads of state and government more than seven months into a conflict that has convulsed the region.

The summit came as Israel vowed on May 16 to “intensify” its ground offensive in Rafah, in defiance of global warnings over the fate of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians sheltering in Gaza’s far-southern city.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said “additional forces will enter” the Rafah area and “this activity will intensify”.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, said in a news release on May 16 that Rafah had “emptied of at least 600,000 people in just the last week” and that another 100,000 have been uprooted from the north of the enclave as the Israeli military announced evacuation orders.

The UNRWA said families “keep fleeing where they can, including to rubble and sand dunes”, in search of safety but that “there’s no such thing in Gaza”.

The conflict broke out after the Hamas attack on Oct 7 on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people. Israel then launched a military offensive on Gaza, where at least 35,303 people have been killed.

The Bahrain Declaration and meeting in Manama had been hailed as significant and “exceptional” by experts, especially given that Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco had normalized ties with Israel through the United States-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020.

“We stress the need for Israel, the occupying power, to cease all its illegal actions that violate the rights of the Palestinian people and undermine the two-state solution and the prospects for a just and comprehensive peace in the region, including the construction and expansion of settlements, the confiscation of Palestinian land, and the displacement of Palestinians from their homes,” the declaration read.

Jasim Husain, a Gulf analyst and former member of Bahrain’s parliament, told China Daily that the summit was “exceptional” and that it was historic for many leaders, including the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “to be in the same area”.

“The main outcome of the conference is the call for an international conference on Palestine in order to declare (a) two-state solution. A Palestinian state (existing) alongside Israel,” said Husain, noting that there were “no endorsement and no threats of breaking ties with Israel”.

Another “outstanding” point was the speech by Abbas, who told the summit that Hamas’ “unilateral decision” to launch the Oct 7 attack had “provided Israel with more pretexts and justifications to attack the Gaza Strip”, Husain noted.

The Arab leaders also called on the international community to fulfill its legal obligations and take decisive measures to end the Israeli occupation of the Arab territories.

Rasha Al Joundy, a senior researcher at the Dubai Public Policy Research Centre, told China Daily that Arab leaders are urging the international community to assume its responsibilities to advance the peace process.

While noting that the UN Security Council is being “paralyzed by vetoes from the US”, Al Joundy said Arab states want to “use their relationship with Israel to send aid to Gaza, and keep the channels open with Tel Aviv to mediate and send messages to the political leadership there”.

Chief of Arab and African Affairs at Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Al Turaifi told United Arab Emirates-based newspaper The National that what made this year’s summit different was that the world “has finally awoken following the tragedy of the people in Gaza”. He also noted the overwhelming support at the recent United Nations General Assembly vote for broadening Palestinian rights, indicating “the two-state solution was the only path forward”.

At his speech during the preparatory meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers of the league on May 15, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan emphasized Saudi Arabia’s firm principles of defending the Arab aspirations and strengthening its foundations of peace, stability and development.

He said his country made all efforts to gain international support “to stop the brutal Israeli attacks” and establish an immediate and permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

The summit also came as 20 international aid organizations released a statement on May 15, blaming the international community for “failing to act” as the Israeli military pushed into Rafah and singling out the United States for bearing a “significant responsibility” for Israel’s International Humanitarian Law, or IHL, violations.

The statement read that “Third States” have the responsibility to urgently act to end and then pursue accountability for, the “Grave Breaches of IHL taking place in Gaza”.

“In addition to halting the transfer of high payload bombs, the US should also use all its leverage to halt the ongoing military operation in Rafah.

“In fact, all suppliers of arms have to respect the Human Rights Council resolution voted on April 5 calling on them to cease the sale, transfer, and diversion of arms, munitions, and other military equipment to Israel,” the statement said.

“All states must act now to ensure an immediate and sustained cease-fire,” it added.

Xinhua and agencies contributed to this story.

Contact the writers at jan@chinadailyapac.com