Leadership and moral courage
G7 Summit

Leadership and moral courage

Protecting Palestinians from further disaster and paving the way to recognising a Palestinian state requires a coordinated, unified, multilateral position from the G7 – and it is critically needed in this moment of geopolitical tension, when more lives are at risk

What are the major challenges to restoring peace in the Middle East?

I challenge the notion that there was peace in the Middle East. There were trends towards de-escalation and reconciliation and integration, bringing Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf states back to the diplomatic field. The Abraham Accords saw normalisation among Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. But none restored peace or stability. There has been ongoing violence for years in Palestine and Israel. There have been constant military activities in Iraq and Syria. There was a ceasefire in Yemen, but the conflict is not resolved, and one would say the same about Libya. 

We should have peace as a goal, but a first step in that direction is to obtain a ceasefire in Gaza. For Palestinians in Gaza, this is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions, with long-term demographic, social, economic and political consequences in Israel and Palestine. Egypt and Jordan, with peace treaties with Israel, are in compromised, precarious positions and under huge pressure along their borders. 

Palestine has resurfaced as a mobilising issue, which has caught Middle Eastern leaders off guard. They’re being called out by their populations for being unable to deliver a ceasefire. The Axis of Resistance, backed by Iran but also based in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, has made it abundantly clear that the violence will end if there is a ceasefire in Gaza. It is very disappointing that no individual country or coalition – neither the G7 nor the United Nations – has been able to protect human life in Gaza and impress on Israel the urgency of a ceasefire for its longer-term security.

How much progress has been made by key governments and organisations?

Certainly, the UN has attempted to bring about a ceasefire, but the US has vetoed or abstained from any such resolution. It would be symbolically important for the US to call on Israel to change course in Gaza. Middle Eastern states are frustrated that no collective multilateral initiative has been marshalled as was done for Ukraine. There have been regional initiatives: at two summits last fall, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Countries called for a ceasefire and humanitarian support for Palestinians in Gaza. There have been several diplomatic initiatives to build consensus and negotiate a plan for a ceasefire, hostage release and then a day-after scenario. There is a real risk of a broader regional escalation, so far relatively contained, despite the death of US servicemen in Jordan, loss of life on the border between Hezbollah and Israel, attacks on Axis of Resistance forces in Syria and Iraq, and Houthis’ attacks on merchant ships. Tensions have been especially high after Iran’s drone attack on Israel in retaliation for Israel’s strike on an Iranian diplomatic building in Syria. We are in a dangerous moment.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East has long been important in providing humanitarian support. Unfortunately, and strategically timed, Israel accused UNRWA members of collaborating with Hamas, and many countries withdrew financial support at a critical time. While some of that is returning, there still has not been an adequate investigation – again at the cost of the Palestinians. UNWRA has long faced accusations of collaboration, but it has provided durable humanitarian assistance to Palestinians for more than two decades. The withdrawal of support also provides Hamas with an opportunity to provide provisions, food and basic needs for people who are suffering. That reactive approach by western governments has knock-on effects that play out poorly, especially regarding the Palestinians themselves.

What key tasks and challenges remain?

I will not be hopeful until we get a ceasefire. Without the political space for diplomacy, it is hard to be hopeful. The suffering for ordinary Palestinians is inhumane, and there needs to be planning for what is becoming a massive humanitarian crisis that will include famine, further loss of life, drought – everything – in a small space that has been completely gutted, with no infrastructure or ability to deliver services to people. The ceasefire is urgently needed for those humane reasons. 

The task is immense. Everyone tosses around the hope that a two-state solution can quickly emerge. It is very hard to see how. People in Israel and Palestine have been traumatised by October 7 and the war, and there is overoptimistic hope that elections in Israel, governance and accountability reform, and a transitional government in Palestine can lead to a two-state solution. The Israeli establishment and population are less committed to a two-state solution than ever. There is no domestic discussion addressing Israel’s security crisis, and leaders are not building a case for the broad, ambitious plans being cooked up by external players and powers. Palestinian politics remain hostage to an ageing, longstanding leader in Ramallah who continues to obstruct the possibility of a transitional government. Reform and an anticorruption purge of that system are urgently needed. We haven’t heard from Palestinians in many public or international forums. There is no engagement with young Palestinians to understand what they seek for their future. These are real, structural impediments. 

How can the G7 help?

The G7 has the opportunity to take a coordinated, unified, multilateral position to protect Palestinians from further disaster and pave the way to recognise a Palestinian state. Alongside a call for collective international and regional diplomacy to support this progress, a strong statement now – when multilateral institutions are fragile and dysfunctional – would be very important in this moment of geopolitical tension. We need leadership, and leadership requires moral courage. If there has ever been a vacuum of leadership, we are living through it. If there was ever a need for leadership, it is now. That’s being able to stand up and do the right thing – even telling your partners and allies that they’re doing the wrong thing.