Dire reality of Gaza’s plight underlines urgent need for humanitarian access

In Rafah, the immediate task of saving lives outweighs talk of post-war scenarios

UN Security Council envoys visit Gaza border to demand ceasefire

UN Security Council envoys visit Gaza border to demand ceasefire
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It is clear that much of western diplomatic efforts when it comes to Palestine are focused on what governance in Gaza will look like after the war ends.

Having met more than 10 western diplomats over the past two weeks, most seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that the Israeli government will continue to press ahead with bombing Gaza until it can claim at least partial success in “destroying” Hamas, with the backing of President Joe Biden in the US, which has used its veto to stop any UN action mandating a ceasefire. Western foreign ministries are busy looking at what a “package” could look like to get to a two-state solution.

But conversations over political horizons and plans seem so distant from the dire realities of Gaza and across the Egyptian border in Rafah, with casualties rising daily. With more than 19,000 Palestinians dead and more than 80 per cent of Gaza’s 2.5 million people displaced, the need to end the war is becoming ever more urgent.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, warned that there is a threat that “everything will implode” unless people in Gaza can be protected and aid can reach them. That urgency is acute, of course, in Gaza, where Mr Lazzarini and his colleagues visited this week – he is one of the few who can get permission to enter the besieged strip.

For most, the closest point to getting to Gaza is Rafah, and there the severity of the situation is clear to see.

With the collapse of the Gazan healthcare system and the destruction of all of its major hospitals, tens of wounded Palestinians are being treated in Al Arish General Hospital, 40 kilometres from the Rafah border, but they are just a fraction of the thousands who need urgent medical care.

With every person in Gaza now in need of humanitarian aid, according to the UN, thousands of lorries carrying aid line the road to Rafah waiting for approval from Israeli authorities to enter. But those approvals are slow and only a trickle of them enter, and when they do, they are checked by Israeli authorities who sometimes turn away supplies seen as possibly useful to Hamas. Since the deadly Hamas attack of October 7 on Israel, the siege on Gaza has only got worse.

Seeking to make the diplomatic conversations relevant to developments on the ground and to press the urgency of the situation, the UAE's ambassador to the UN Lana Nusseibeh invited fellow permanent representatives serving on the Security Council as well as incoming ones on a trip to Rafah on Monday. Sixteen countries, including Russia, China, the UK, Switzerland, Ghana, Japan and Malta had their envoys join the visit, which included meeting Mr Lazzarini, other UN officials, wounded Palestinians, doctors and logistics workers seeking to get aid in.

Those diplomats returned to New York with a clearer sense of the situation in Gaza and with the mission of helping to end the war. However, the US did not participate in the trip and continues to be an obstacle to UN Security Council action to force a ceasefire.

Speaking to The National in Rafah, Palestinian Minister of Social Development Ahmed Majdalani said: “Changing the current situation depends primarily on the position of the American administration, it is the one that has paralysed the UN Security Council and its ability to do its job for peace and security.”

Separately, Arab diplomats, especially Egyptian, Jordanian, Emirati, Saudi and Qatari ones, speak publicly and privately of the need to stop the war as a priority, with most efforts exerted in that direction.

There is undoubtedly an acknowledgement of the need for a political horizon for the “day after”. Israel, the US, UK, Germany and France lead the voices demanding an end to Hamas rule in Gaza, while others see the possibility of officials close to Hamas being part of a wider political make-up of Palestinian officials leading a transition stage.

The Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, is weakened and also considered incapable of leading the next phase alone. Diplomats and analysts have suggested names of those who could lead the Palestinians, including imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who retains a high level of legitimacy among Palestinians, and Salam Fayyad, whose time as prime minister was seen as one of the more competent eras of PA rule. While Mr Barghouti remains imprisoned and Mr Fayyad is at Princeton University for the time being, other names are being considered. Arab League officials are also engaged in seeking a path forward on Palestinian leadership.

Equally, questions abound about the future of Israeli politics. It is highly unlikely that current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will survive long in office once the war ends – leading to questions about his motivations for prolonging the war. Benny Gantz, minister without portfolio in the current government, is seen as the most likely contender to become leader but all will rest on the outcome of elections which would follow the expected collapse of the current government.

These political machinations undoubtedly feed into calculations of how the war will end. However, the urgency in ensuring a ceasefire, or at least a truce, is high.

Maltese Permanent Representative to the UN Vanessa Frieze said “we need to do more” to stop the war.

“We have to insist on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2712 because it is the only document we have,” she added.

Speaking to The National after meeting wounded Palestinians, she said: “While we could like to have more, it is an important document … it is a purely humanitarian resolution, so it is important that it is implemented and that we demand its full and immediate implementation.”

Malta sponsored the resolution which is the only one passed by the UN Security Council on Palestine and Israel since the war started. With the abstention of Russia, the UK and US, the council called for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors through the Gaza Strip” for humanitarian access and to provide “water, electricity, fuel, food and medical supplies as well as emergency repairs to essential infrastructure”, in addition to the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas and other groups … and calls on all parties to refrain from depriving the civilian population in the Gaza strip of life-saving services and humanitarian assistance indispensable to their survival”.

While a full and permanent ceasefire remains out of reach and a long-term end to the conflict and occupation will take a considerably long time, if ever realised, the least the so-called international community can do is to uphold the resolution passed less than four weeks ago, which is already being ignored.

Updated: December 13, 2023, 8:25 AM