Release of Israeli hostages is at core of Gaza crisis, says UNGA President

Dennis Francis tells The National of urgent need for political process to pave way for two-state solution

UNGA President Dennis Francis in New York. Adla Massoud / The National
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At the core of the Israel-Gaza war are the hostages being held by Hamas but the escalation of violence will only exacerbate hate, the President of the UN General Assembly has told The National.

“It's absolutely necessary that all the hostages be released at once. Because this is the core. This is the core of the current situation,” Dennis Francis, a seasoned diplomat with nearly 40 years of service in Trinidad and Tobago, said at the UN headquarters in New York.

But he added that although Israel has the right to defend itself, “bloodshed does not contribute to a solution to the problem”.

“It creates more hate, more venom, more long-term desire for revenge and retribution,” he explained.

Describing the Israel-Gaza war as “a situation that deeply offends the human sensibility”, Mr Francis emphasised that “these are not normal times”.

“In the space of five weeks, we can lose approximately 11,000 souls, two thirds of them being women and children, civilians whose only desire is to live their lives,” he said.

Gaza's Health Ministry reported on Tuesday that the death toll currently stands at more than 14,000 people, about 6,000 of them children.

“These are not combatants in the war," Mr Francis said. "These are ordinary people living ordinary lives who have become victims of this war.”

Mr Francis described the current situation as one that “that needs to be brought to a halt … very quickly”.

When asked whether the world was doing enough to end the conflict, he replied: “That's a very subjective question. People have their own opinions about that.”

But he said the crisis could not continue indefinitely and questioned when the world would decide that the price of inaction was too high.

“In my view, we've already exceeded that price,” Mr Francis said as he called for a ceasefire and urged global leaders to find a path towards peace and stability in the region.

“The current situation has demonstrated to us the danger of not having that dialogue.”

The UNGA President emphasised the urgent need for a political process to pave the way for a two-state solution, calling for comprehensive dialogue involving all relevant stakeholders in the region.

“Everyone needs to come to the table, all of the players need to be at the table, those who are directly involved, and those who have influence in the region,” Mr Francis said. “The process of engagement at some point needs to start.”

However, in a world facing its highest number of conflicts since 1945 and the state of multilateralism in crisis, Mr Francis noted what the international community lacks is political will.

“We have to work hard to rebuild the trust that existed before,” he said.

Climate crisis 'happening now'

Amid the backdrop of geopolitical turmoil, it becomes even more challenging to prioritise climate issues.

Mr Francis will be participating in the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai, where global leaders will gather for the annual UN-led conference with the goal of preserving the 1.5°C warming target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

As it stands, the world is on track to warm by nearly 3°C this century, according to a UN report released on Monday.

“Last week, I visited the Cook Islands in the Pacific. These are islands that are at risk of being submerged by 2030 … they did not cause the problem of global warming, but they are on the front line of the impacts,” Mr Francis said.

“And what is at stake there is not only loss of territory, but potentially loss of sovereignty. What happens to these people? Where do they go? It's happening now. It's not something that's futuristic. It is happening now.”

Updated: November 22, 2023, 8:14 AM