Israeli-Hamas ceasefire must come before talks on Gaza's future, diplomats say

Husam Zomlot says 'there is no day after' without ending the occupation

Rubble from a destroyed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP
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The future government of Gaza should be discussed only after the Israeli war ends in the ravaged Palestinian enclave, diplomats and experts have told a conference in Doha.

Israel has said it is aiming to eliminate Hamas and disarm the coastal Gaza Strip as the US explores scenarios including the Palestinian Authority taking control of Gaza when the war ends.

But for many diplomats and experts gathered at the Doha Forum, an annual regional policy and global issues conference, stopping the current war is the priority.

“We have to focus on now, today, not the day after, because without stopping the aggression, the atrocities, every day is going to complicate the day after,” Palestinian UK mission ambassador Husam Zomlot told The National on the sidelines of the conference.

“The only way you can deal with the after is the before. We have got to focus on ending the occupation. We need to decide that that has got to go. Without that, there is no day after.”

More than 17,900 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and nearly two million people have been displaced since the war began on October 7 following the Hamas attacks.

Across Gaza, food and water supplies are running perilously low as a lack of fuel means communications and essential services such as water desalination are progressively failing, the UN said.

Despite the worsening situation, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Friday calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire after Secretary General Antonio Guterres declared the conflict a threat to world peace and security.

UN chief: 'October 7 attack can never justify collective punishment of Palestinians'

UN chief: 'October 7 attack can never justify collective punishment of Palestinians'

The Arab-drafted resolution tabled by the UAE received 13 votes in favour and an abstention from the UK as well as the US veto.

“The ceasefire should always be the number-one priority for us. This war needs to stop,” said Qatari Minister of State Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Al Khulaifi.

“We are disappointed that the Security Council did not take that decision,” he said.

While Israel last week said its offensive could continue for months, Israeli and US officials have been shifting focus to Gaza's postwar future.

Israeli officials suggested the country could try to create a buffer zone within the Palestinian territory that would stop militants entering Israel again.

Any encroachment into the enclave, which is only 40km long, would further squeeze its 2.3 million residents.

Meanwhile, the US is taking a leading role in shaping the parameters of a future Gaza Strip.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month said Gaza should be unified with the West Bank – currently occupied by Israel – under the Palestinian Authority once the war is over, offering a strong signal about what the US sees as its preferred endgame.

Comfort Eco, president and chief executive of the International Crisis Group, said if the war continues, “there may not be anything left of Gaza”.

“You keep talking about the day after. It’s hard to conceive the day after because it’s hard to imagine what Gaza will look like the day after. It’s going to be hard to determine what is left of Gaza,” she told the Qatari conference.

Without naming the US, Mr Al Khulaifi said “more needs to be done by important international stakeholders".

“Right now, let's not get distracted by secondary items," she said. "Let us focus on the main item with the agenda, which is a ceasefire right now.”

Updated: December 11, 2023, 1:17 PM