The Israel-Gaza war demands solutions, not political fantasies

The conflict is having global repercussions, but there is a worrying lack of seriousness about ways to end it

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz talks with German counterpart Annalena Baerbock during a meeting at the EU's headquarters in Brussels on Monday. Mr Katz was later criticised for bringing up the topic of building an artificial island off the coast of Gaza during discussions. AFP
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It is difficult to tell if Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz’s meeting with more than two dozen EU counterparts in Brussels on Monday was a tactic designed to obfuscate the brutal realities of his government’s actions in Gaza, or if it was rather the moment when some of the wilder thinking in Israeli political circles was exposed to a serious – and understandably incredulous – audience.

The EU's High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, pulled no punches, effectively accusing Mr Katz of wasting the 27 foreign ministers’ time at a meeting that was held to discuss the Gaza war. During the high-profile event, Mr Katz showed the ministers videos of "an artificial island" and "a railway linking up the Middle East with India", Mr Borrell said after 10 hours of subsequent meetings with Arab and EU diplomats.

Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad Al Maliki, who held separate consultations with EU counterparts and whose Palestinian Authority is under pressure to reform, reacted with scorn to the island proposal put forward by Mr Katz: a $5 billion structure to be built off the coast of Palestine with international funds that would provide Gaza with essential services – but be under Israeli security control.

“Those who had the idea” of creating an artificial island may go and live on it if they wish, Mr Al Maliki said.

It is alarming to see such an absence of seriousness about ending a crisis in Gaza that has cost more than 25,000 Palestinian lives, risks the safety of the remaining Israeli hostages being held there and that is starting fires from Lebanon and Syria to the Red Sea, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. More than three months on from the Hamas attack of October 7 and the start of the war that followed, much of the political, diplomatic and military reaction to it lacks sufficient strategic depth and is largely coloured by short-sightedness instead.

This can be seen in the continuing crisis in the Red Sea, where a fortnight of British and American air strikes on Houthi targets seems to offer little more than partial protection from the Iran-backed rebels’ attacks on international shipping. Increased militarisation without credible diplomatic strategies to resolve the core problem has little to offer in terms of lasting de-escalation in this vital waterway.

Moreover, it is remarkable that in all this time, very few comprehensive proposals for peace have gained traction. The war in Gaza is having global repercussions, and yet the realistic solutions being put forward are vanishingly rare. Instead, leading figures on all sides are either engaging in bad faith or sticking to maximalist demands.

It is time to get serious. There are mediators, national governments and regional organisations that can help find a way forward. But every chance for engagement that is passed up means more death in Gaza, more danger and isolation for Israel and an increased likelihood of regional clashes in which everybody loses. Sticking-plaster solutions will only go so far. It is time to leave the island of political fantasies behind and step back into the real world.

Published: January 24, 2024, 3:00 AM