Global pressure building for long-term Gaza resolution, says WEF president

Borge Brende says there is now a strong push for a long-term peace as diplomats and leaders attend special meeting in Riyadh

World Economic Forum president Borge Brende speaks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the WEF special meeting in Riyadh on April 28. Reuters
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Global attention is now focused on finding a lasting solution to the war in Gaza, said Borge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum, on the sidelines of its Riyadh summit this week.

Resolving the conflict can no longer be considered only a Palestinian issue, but is a global concern, Mr Brende said, as it "has the potential of escalating conflicts so much in the region".

The continuing crisis in Gaza featured heavily at the WEF's Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development 2024, which was held in Riyadh on Sunday and Monday.

The forum's first meeting in Saudi Arabia was attended by global leaders and diplomats including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who used the summit to bring renewed focus on Gaza.

Mr Brende hosted a panel with Mr Blinken to discuss the path to a ceasefire.

Speaking to The National afterwards, he said that Mr Blinken is "under pressure" from growing protests at US universities calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, and widening polarisation over the issue.

Mr Blinken said the latest ceasefire proposals, which are being indirectly negotiated between Israel and Hamas, were an "extraordinarily generous" offer for Hamas.

Mr Brende said Mr Blinken has put a lot of pressure on Hamas to accept the deal on the table, which has received support from Qatar and others as a way to a long-term resolution.

“My feeling is that there is a strong wish now, including from Arab countries,” he added.

While the administration of US President Joe Biden has also pressured Israel to accept a ceasefire, it has come under criticism for continuing to supply arms and support for Israel's war in Gaza.

That is despite more than 34,500 Palestinians being killed in the enclave, according to local health authorities.

Full remarks of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at World Economic Forum meeting in Riyadh

Full remarks of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at World Economic Forum meeting in Riyadh

A continuing concern is who will commit to rebuilding Gaza, which has been devastated by more than six months of war.

Mr Brende said that acute humanitarian support must get into Gaza much faster, but at the same time, the early recovery and reconstruction will need a political path before seeing any action.

“After the last Gaza war it was rebuilt but I think this time there will be big reluctance to do so,” he said.

Mr Brende also discussed the regional implications of the war.

He said that the fear of the conflict escalating across the region had helped focus on the need for a solution.

Israel and Iran came close to all-out war this month, after Israel killed senior Iranian commanders in an attack on Iran's embassy compound in Damascus.

Less than two weeks later, Iran launched a barrage of more than 300 missiles and drones in retaliation, bringing fears of a greater regional conflict.

“There is much more pressure now for a political path and the future two-state solution that I have seen, I would say, maybe in decades,” said Mr Brende, the former foreign, trade and industry, and environment minister of Norway.

A potential regional agreement between the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel was also discussed at the WEF.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that US-Saudi agreements were “very, very close” and “most of the work has already been done”.

Mr Brende said that many elements are involved in any agreement that would lead to Israel and Saudi Arabia normalising relations, particularly after October 7.

But he said that if a realistic path towards a two-state solution was agreed to, the two countries normalising relations is definitely more likely.

He said the war in Gaza has influenced how Arab leaders act in future.

“I think leaders today will be very particular about what can be done,” Mr Brende said.

The mood has also changed in Israel after the October attack from Hamas, he said.

“They’re very traumatised from what they saw in the atrocities,” Mr Brende said of Israel’s response in Gaza.

“I think the pressure on Israel in the years to come will increase. In the coming months, we will see if we are at an impasse or if it is possible to create a political path."

Updated: April 30, 2024, 7:57 PM