“Regional Perspectives on the Palestinian- Israeli Conflict”

Islamabad :  The Centre for Afghanistan Middle East and Africa (CAMEA) at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), hosted a webinar titled, “Regional Perspectives on the Palestinian- Israeli Conflict.” The webinar was moderated by Ms. Amina Khan, Director CAMEA. The speakers at the webinar included Ambassador Sohail Mahmood, Director General ISSI; Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman BoG, ISSI; Dr. Nader Al-Turk, the Deputy Ambassador of Palestine in Pakistan; Dr. Moatamer Amin, Department of Political Science, University of Cairo, Egypt; Dr. Joseph Bahout, Director, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) at the American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanon; Dr. Ali Bakir, Professor, Ibn Khaldon Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences, Qatar University, Doha; Dr. Bilgehan Öztürk, Researcher SETA Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, Turkiye; Dr. Hanan AlHajeri, Department of Political Science, University of Kuwait; Dr. Aziz Alghashian, Saudi researcher and fellow with the Sectarianism, Proxies and De-sectarianisation project; and Dr. Omid Babelian, Research Fellow IPIS, Iran.

DG ISSI Ambassador Sohail Mahmood highlighted the heart wrenching situation being faced by the people of Gaza. He added that while there was an array of international opinion about the 7 October attack, the UN Secretary General had rightly pointed out that this did not happen in a vaccum. He noted the historical context of illegal occupation, unabated oppression, relentless appropriation of Palestinian lands, and systematic denial of Palestinian rights. The occupied Palestinians’ right to resistance was recognized by international law and their right to self-determination enshrined in numerous UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. He decried the ongoing Israeli military onslaught as tantamount to genocide, being conducted in complete violation of international law and international humanitarian law, and with full impunity. Advocating urgent priorities, he called for an immediate ceasefire, unhindered humanitarian aid delivery to Gaza, and the protection of innocent Palestinian civilians. Expressing deep concern over settler attacks and atrocities in the West Bank, Ambassador Sohail Mahmood urged immediate action to halt these injustices. Additionally, he underscored the importance of addressing long-term issues, advocating for a just and final settlement based on a two-state solution. Calling for a comprehensive review of the U.S. position, he urged proactive steps to move Israel towards a ceasefire and recommence peace talks. Recognizing the vital role of international institutions, he called for united and assertive efforts from the UN Secretary-General, the Security Council, the Arab League, and the OIC.

Director CAMEA Amina Khan highlighted the severe consequences of Israel’s total blockade on Gaza, attributing it to the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. She characterized Israel’s military campaign as devastating and indiscriminate, using terms such as apartheid and genocide. Ms. Khan stated that over 13,000 casualties, including 5,500 children and 3,500 women, as of October 7, 2023 have taken place. Criticizing the international system’s prioritization of conflicts, she questioned the sanctity of human rights and international law. Ms. Khan contested Israel’s right to self-defence, asserting it cannot be invoked when the threat originates from the territory it occupies. She warned of broader regional repercussions, suggesting Israel’s actions might be part of a plan to reoccupy Gaza and force Palestinians into neighboring countries, impacting regional dynamics and Israel’s ties with the Muslim world, particularly those involved in the Abraham Accords, and heightening vulnerability to spillover.

Dr. Nader Al-Turk highlighted that the events on October 7, 2023, are part of a 75-year history of Israeli apartheid. He condemned Israel’s actions, emphasizing the collective punishment inflicted on Palestinians. Expressing gratitude to China and Russia for support, he criticized Western double standards and urged intervention by regional countries and the Muslim world to stop Israel’s state terrorism in Gaza. Confident in Palestinian freedom, he emphasized the recent conflict tarnishing Israel’s regional image. Dr. Al-Turk stressed the need for diplomacy, dialogue, and international efforts for a just and lasting peace. In conclusion, he underscored the opportunity in crises to uphold global principles of humanity and emphasized Israel’s accountability for atrocities since 1948.

Dr. Moatmer Amin, while expressing his views, said that this ongoing conflict is a wakeup call for Egypt and wondered whether a change in course or in the entire direction was underway. The bilateral relations between Egypt and Israel are going through a rough patch. He further said that this cannot be viewed as a zero sum game and the Abraham Accords are also in the background. The American boots are on ground in Gaza as well. All the factors, including the bilateral regional and international relations, cannot be ignored. The solution is the two state solution. There is a huge chance for tensions between Egypt and Israel as more people will be pushed to the border, and the more unhappy it will make Egypt, he said.

Dr. Joseph Bahout highlighted the Gaza war’s significance in prioritizing the Palestinian question and stressed its inclusion in any reconciliation or bilateral agreement. Post-Gaza, challenges include finding a new Palestinian interlocutor, reshaping Israeli dynamics, and navigating the American factor. Despite initial downsizing plans, the U.S. returned due to influences like China’s growing presence. Dr. Bahout noted ongoing normalization between the Gulf Cooperation Council states and Israel, and with Iran,  were evident in the ongoing Saudi Arabia-Iran talks. He also stated that, Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are benefitting from the ongoing crisis, since they can now reclaim an Arab-Palestinian connection.

Dr. Ali Bakir highlighted Qatar’s challenges in mediating between Hamas and Israel during the Gaza conflict. Despite Qatar’s efforts to free hostages, US institutions, media, and Israel undermine its role. The dual stance of the US, calling for Qatar’s involvement while facing criticism, created challenges reminiscent of the 2017 Gulf crisis. Dr. Bakir expressed confidence in Doha’s continued constructive role, emphasizing its critical humanitarian and financial support. He noted that regional escalation, including Iran’s alleged role, was unlikely, underscoring the need for a change in US unconditional support for Israel to avoid long-term consequences.

Dr. Bilgehan Öztürk, while giving the Turkish perspective to the Israeli aggression in Gaza said that the situation is unfortunate in many respects and Turkiye’s reaction and attitude has been different as compared to before. President Erdoğan has called Israel a terrorist state and has vowed not to look away from such the plight of the Palestinians. He further said that Turkiye is trying to explore newer options and avenues to put pressure on Israel. Moreover all regional actors have been threatened by this conflict and they all have an interest in putting pressure on Israel, he concluded.

Dr. Hanan AlHajeri highlighted Kuwait’s steadfast stance against Israel over seven decades, opposing normalization until a Palestinian state is established along the 1967 borders. Kuwait was among the first to call for international aid to Palestinians and to hold Israel accountable. Dr. AlHajeri emphasized diverse perspectives within Kuwait, advocating for justice and criticizing Israeli policies. She underscored the need for continuous international demands for ceasefire and humanitarian aid in Gaza, rejecting Israeli narratives in the final solution, and expressed skepticism about Western double standards.

Dr. Aziz Alghashian analyzed the nuanced dynamics of Saudi-Israeli relations amid the ongoing war. Saudi Arabia’s swift statement aimed to convey a clear position, acknowledging potential normalization talks while warning against the Netanyahu-led government’s actions. He emphasized Saudi Arabia’s strategic reaction to the polarized moment, avoiding contributing to Israel’s momentum in Arab states. Dr. Alghashian noted the complexities within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and its varied stances on Israel, suggesting that discussions on Gaza’s reconstruction hinge on progress in the peace process. He concluded by urging a reevaluation of critical issues and emphasizing the need for concerted efforts to address underlying challenges.

Dr. Omid Babelian underscored that the current situation is rooted in a seven-decade history, impacting the dignity of Palestinians. He highlighted the influence of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, leading Israel to act destructively due to Western indifference. Despite the ICJ deeming it unjustifiable, Western support has resulted in Palestinian massacres. Dr. Babelian emphasized the region’s history of resistance, framing the events on October 7, 2023, as a legitimate response to seven decades of Zionist atrocities. He criticized past plans for undermining the two-state solution and enabling the Zionist regime’s creation, calling for a halt to attacks, the establishment of a humanitarian corridor, and a resolute stance against forced migration.

Ambassador Khalid Mahmood in his concluding remarks stated that all limits have been crossed by Israel and the double standards of the West have been exposed. He underscored that a ceasefire be implemented immediately and that a solution reached according to the UN resolutions.

After the Speakers’ remarks, an interactive session followed during which further complex aspects of the evolving situation and its regional and global ramifications were taken up.

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