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Palestinian-Israeli conflict critical for BRICS

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Long before South African President Cyril Ramaphosa chaired a video summit with BRICS leaders (Brazil, Russia, India and China) with participation of new members on November 21 to discuss the Israel-Hamas conflict, there have been some differences in perceptions and approaches among them, so it was not surprising that the BRICS bloc did not agree on issuing a joint declaration.

Last August when BRICS held its 15th summit, South Africa’s position was entirely different on the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin. But today, South Africa has vehemently called to an arrest warrant to be issued, without further delay, for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the ongoing bombardment and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

On November 20, South Africa urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by mid-December. Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said failure to do so would signal a “total failure” of global governance.

Some experts think Israel’s approach and strategy should be a lot more targeted and tactical to avoid civilian casualties, South Africa should be critical of their buddy Putin who has been supporting Hamas and facilitating the initial attack. The hypocrisy is suffocating. Having Putin there especially, is hypocrisy in the extreme. They do not want to meet about Ukraine, a sovereign nation that was attacked without cause nor do they want to meet about conflicts in Africa (Sudan, DRC, Somalia, S. Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, et cetera.)

At the end of their lengthy discussions on November 21, leaders of the BRICS bloc, despite their comprehensive analysis of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that began October 7, were not keen on issuing any joint declaration. It has already been interpreted as a weakness on the part of BRICS. Understandably BRICS is not a political group, as it has often been explained previously during several of its summits. But there must be stern collective decisions from such blocs as BRICS to support United Nations’ efforts toward finding resolution to the conflict has affected millions of civilians, and children in the Gaza Strip.

The virtual talks organized by current BRICS chair South Africa were the first between the group’s leaders since Israel invaded Gaza in retaliation for a deadly raid by militant group Hamas on Israel on October 7. BRICS comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. In August, the grouping agreed to admit Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates from January, in a move aimed at accelerating its push to reshuffle a Western-dominated world order it sees as outdated.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has condemned Hamas for its attack on Israeli civilians that sparked the conflict and said both sides were guilty of violating international law. “The collective punishment of Palestinian civilians through the unlawful use of force by Israel is a war crime. The deliberate denial of medicine, fuel, food and water to the residents of Gaza is tantamount to genocide. In its attacks on civilians and by taking hostages, Hamas has also violated international law and must be held accountable for these actions,” Ramaphosa said.

He, however, explained during his discussions that the diplomats did not have sufficient time to draft a declaration. “We’ve called upon all parties to exercise maximum restraint,” Ramaphosa said in his summary of the discussions. “We affirmed … that a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be achieved by peaceful means.”

Among the BRICS, South Africa has for years compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank with its own past apartheid regime of racial segregation. South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel and withdrew all its diplomatic staff. It has absolutely severed diplomatic ties over the war, taking the lead over Israel who only recalled its Ambassador Eliav Belotserkovsky to South Africa for discussions. Our monitoring shows that apart from South Africa, no other from the BRICS bloc torn down diplomatic relations with Israel.

While South African leader accuses Israel of war crimes, Putin and Xi strike more cautious note at meeting attended by Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, which are set to join the bloc in January 2024, calling for a cease-fire and the release of civilian hostages but not launching the same level of criticism of either side as Ramaphosa.

Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the crisis on the failure of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. “We call for joint efforts of the international community aimed at de-escalating the situation, a ceasefire and finding a political solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And the BRICS states… could play a key role in this work,” Putin said, and commended colleagues from the Middle East in the meeting, particularly by holding the Peace Summit in Egypt and the extraordinary Arab-Islamic Summit in Saudi Arabia.

Putin also mentioned there was a “humanitarian catastrophe” unfolding in Gaza and it was “shocking to watch how surgeries are performed on children without anesthesia.” He again blamed the crisis on what he called failed diplomacy by the United States.

“All these events, in fact, are a direct consequence of the U.S. desire to monopolize mediation functions in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement,” Putin said while appearing on teleconference from the Kremlin. He called for a cease-fire in Gaza, the freeing of hostages and the evacuation of civilians from the Gaza Strip.

Putin’s comments were in line with Russia’s careful approach to the Israel-Hamas war, which may present an opportunity for it to advance its role as a global power broker. Putin proposed last month that Moscow could mediate in the conflict due to its relationships with both Israel and the Palestinians. He said that the BRICS bloc could play “a key role” in finding a political settlement.

Different leaders emphasized different points in their remarks. Argentina’s Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero said his country recognised Israel’s right “to legitimate self-defence while strictly respecting humanitarian international law”, while China’s Xi Jinping appeared to show more sympathy for the Palestinians.

Chinese Jinping called for the release of all civilians detained during the Israel-Hamas war and reiterated his call for an immediate cease-fire. “China believes that the following is urgent and imperative: first, all the parties to the conflict must end hostilities and achieve a cease-fire immediately,” Xi said, addressing leaders from countries including Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and Iran by video. “All the parties must stop all violence and attacks against civilians, release civilians held captive, and act to prevent loss of more lives and spare people from more miseries.”

“The root cause of the Palestinian-Israeli situation is the fact that the right of the Palestinian people to statehood, their right to existence, and their right of return have long been ignored,” Xi said. China has historically been sympathetic to the Palestinians and supportive of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his speech, Xi finally urged the international community to take concrete measures to prevent the escalation of the conflicts and the impact on the stability of the entire Middle East. He also called for a prompt convening of an international peace conference to build consensus for peace and work toward an early comprehensive, just and sustainable solution.

Russia and China are leading voices in BRICS, which has largely cast itself in recent years as standing against the perceived dominance of the West in global affairs. But it has struggled to adopt united policies or positions on many issues because of the differing priorities of the five current members. India, which also wants to be seen as a leader of the developing world, has long walked a tightrope between Israel and the Palestinians and historically has close ties to both.

Many foreign leaders have called on on the International Criminal Court to institute investigations into the military operations of the Israeli Army. The Spokesperson of the Palestinian Government, Ibrahim Milhem, said that the International Criminal Court should take an action on the genocide as it pertains by the international standard.

As confirmed by ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan, countries such as South Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros, and Djibouti, which are all ICC members. Five nations are calling on the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation into Israel’s indiscriminate war and genocide on Gaza and the situation in the state of Palestine.

Turkey has also filed a case against Netanyahu with the ICC, accusing him of committing genocide against the Palestinians. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed to reporters on November 4 that Turkey is no longer considering Netanyahu as its interlocutor, but the head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization, Ibrahim Kalin, remains in contact with Israel.

In addition, for instance, the President of Algeria called the lawyers of the Arab world and human rights groups to file a claim against Israel in the International Criminal Court for the war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Colombian President Gustavo Petro said Bogota would support Algeria’s case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over war crimes committed by Israel, led by the Israeli occupation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the ongoing bombardment and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

According reports, more than 12,700 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank. Officials there say another 4,000 are missing. Around 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mainly civilians during the Hamas attack.

The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Indonesia and Palestine, as well as OIC Secretary General Hissein Brahim Taja, also discussed the situation around Gaza with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the same day, November 21 and jointly concluded that self-defense is not a justification for what the Israeli military is doing in Gaza. The US and European Union have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. According to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, the delegation would also travel to the United Kingdom, France and the United States.