Arab and Islamic delegation urges Cameron to play balanced role in Israel-Gaza war

Diplomacy making headway in wake of Israeli-Hamas temporary truce to release those held

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron poses with the delegation at Lancaster House in London. PA
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

A delegation of ministers from Arab and Islamic countries urged the UK to play a “balanced role” in the Israel-Gaza conflict during a meeting with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron on Wednesday.

The delegation was formed at the Islamic-Arab Summit in Riyadh to meet the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in efforts to end the Israel-Gaza war.

The committee of nine ministers and diplomats was led by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan. It welcomed the four-day humanitarian truce between Israel and Hamas, according to a statement from the kingdom after the meeting.

After holding talks with Mr Cameron, the delegation said it was urging the international community to build on this to reach a “complete and sustainable ceasefire as soon as possible”.

It also addressed the need to revive the peace process in the hope of establishing a “sovereign, independent” Palestinian state in line with 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital, and discussed the securing of safe passages for humanitarian aid into Gaza.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has expressed unwavering support for Israel's "right" to defend itself from Hamas, but stressed it must do so within international law. Lord Cameron reaffirmed the UK's support for a two-state solution after his surprise appointment last week and said he would work for a political solution to the crisis.

“The agreement reached last night is an important opportunity to get the hostages out and more aid into Gaza to help the Palestinian people," he said on Wednesday. “We discussed how to use this step forward to think about the future and how we can build a peaceful future which provides security for Israel but also peace and stability for the Palestinian people.”

The visiting committee called on the UK to “reject all forms of selectivity” by holding Israel accountable for its actions according to international law, and not to “overlook the ugly crimes” committed by “occupation forces and settler militias” in the Palestinian territories.

Upon leaving Westminster, the delegation went straight to Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace.

Israel approves hostage and ceasefire deal with Hamas

Israel approves hostage and ceasefire deal with Hamas

This will conclude three days of intense diplomatic efforts, involving meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow and Chinese Vice President Han Zheng earlier this week.

'Momentum for diplomacy'

The meeting with Lord Cameron is part of a “momentum for diplomacy” that experts speaking at foreign affairs think tank Chatham House see as driven by Arab states.

But it is fraught with challenges – not least because of Israel’s internal confusion over the future of Gaza. “When thinking of a diplomatic path forward, we do need to look at the appetite for that in Israel,” said Dr Elham Fakhro, associate fellow at Chatham House.

Though the Arab world’s message is “clear”, the challenges are varied and touch on existing normalisation agreements with Israel, experts on the panel said.

Foremost among these is Egypt, which has had “extremely solid” relations with Israel since the Camp David Accords, according to Mirette Mabrouk, senior fellow and founding director of the Egypt programme at the Middle East Institute. The 40-year agreement has been an “essential” security guarantor for Israel.

Yet the relationship has soured as the risk of Israel pushing Palestinians out of Gaza and into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula grows. Israeli officials have expressed intent to do so.

Egypt considers an influx of Palestinian refugees to be a security risk and a red line. Ignoring Egyptian concerns, US and European diplomats have urged Cairo to take in Palestinian refugees in exchange for debt relief from its economic crisis.

The move by western countries on behalf of Israel has threatened to “push Egypt beyond its limits", Ms Mabrouk said. “When a country that has had the worst economic crisis in 50 years is promised debt relief and consistently says no, you should pay attention,” she said.

Among the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia has “gone the furthest” in its willingness to put pressure on Israel, said Dr Fakhro.

Latest from Israel-Gaza conflict - in pictures

Understanding what Israel wants from the war is another obstacle in the path to peace, she said. “There are some unknowns. What is Israel trying to accomplish beyond its general goal of eliminating Hamas? What is Israel willing to do when there is a ceasefire eventually?” Dr Fakhro said.

An emboldened far right in Israel has called for the establishment of a wide buffer zone that would push Palestinians to southern Gaza. Talk of bringing the Palestinian Authority back to Gaza has been met with direct opposition from Israeli officials.

The US has opposed an Israel occupation of Gaza after the war. But Arab states will be reluctant to "clean up the mess" after an Israeli withdrawal.

Egypt or other Arab states' involvement in post-conflict Gaza could place them in the role of “occupier”.

“The agreement on this subject is fairly homogeneous and is the same as most of the Arab states,” Ms Mabrouk said of Egypt.

Nonetheless, ideas and proposals for how Arab states, the US and Israel can work together to contribute to peace and reconstruction are circulating in Washington, Dr Fakhro said.

“The hope is that yes, in the day after [the war], you have a momentum for diplomacy and there is a way forward,” she said.

Updated: November 22, 2023, 4:25 PM