DOHA, Qatar -- Heads of state, UN officials, diplomats and experts called for a cease-fire in Gaza and humanitarian diplomacy to resolve conflicts and foster a sustainable, shared future at the 21st Doha Forum held Dec. 10-11.
Under the theme, "Diplomacy, Dialogue and Diversity," the global forum discussed the interconnected nature of global challenges, the future of education, the energy transition, AI governance, economic systems, women's health in conflict, international law, global crises and regional security.
Opening the forum, Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani spoke about the forum's role as a platform for communication between people, not only in times of ease but also and especially during challenging periods marked by growing polarization across the world.
"This (Gaza) crisis has clearly demonstrated the size of the gap between the East and the West, the gap between successive generations and the double standards adopted by the international community, which have divided the world between those demanding an end to this war and to stop the killing machine, and those who are reluctant to even call for a cease-fire,” he said, highlighting that Qatar, along with its partners, remains committed to ongoing efforts for an immediate cease-fire, providing humanitarian aid to Gaza and to resolving the Gaza crisis.
The opening ceremony featured the recognition of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani with the Doha Forum Award, honoring the UNRWA's 75-year commitment to supporting Palestinian refugees.
The UNRWA has been supporting Palestinian refugees through aid such as building schools and shelters, with now 700 dedicated schools operating across the Middle East. Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini received the award on behalf of the UNRWA.
Delivering remarks at the forum, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the challenges of ending global crises, expressing concern over the Security Council's delayed response to the situation in Gaza due to geostrategic divisions impacting resolutions from Ukraine to Myanmar and the Middle East.
“I urged the Security Council to press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, and I reiterated my appeal for a humanitarian cease-fire to be declared. Regrettably, the Security Council failed to do it, but that does not make it less necessary. So, I can promise I will not give up,” he said.
“As we approach 2024, almost 300 million people around the world are in need of humanitarian assistance, equivalent to (the entire population of) the third-most populous country in the world," noted UN Undersecretary-General Martin Griffith.
The UN General Assembly held an Emergency Special Session on the Israel-Palestine conflict on Tuesday, addressing the ongoing crisis in Gaza.
The member states passed a resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, the unconditional release of hostages and ensuring humanitarian access. The resolution, adopted with 153 in favor, 10 against and 23 abstentions, reiterated the demand for all parties to comply with international law, especially in protecting civilians.
The Doha Forum in recent years has drawn leaders from around the world to engage in discussions on pressing geopolitical issues. Notable among them was Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who participated via video link last year. This year, the forum invited Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov for a video interview.
In a live video interview, Lavrov addressed the Middle East crisis, emphasizing the necessity of diplomacy.
“We strongly condemned the terrorist attack against Israel on the 7th of October, like we condemn any terrorist attack. At the same time, we do not believe it is acceptable to use this event for the collective punishment of the millions of Palestinian people," he said.
Korea National Diplomatic Academy Chancellor Park Cheol-hee also participated in a panel discussion called "US-China Competition: How Should Middle Powers Respond?"
Park cautioned against exclusively aligning with one side and advocated strategic resilience.
“Taking exclusively one-sided action is risky,” said Park, suggesting taking an approach akin to playing golf, where one maintains a clear stance but acts flexibly, acknowledging the complexities of such a balancing act.
Despite South Korea's geographical proximity to China, he emphasized the need for a resilient and flexible position, recognizing the US as a crucial ally for security.
Park also mentioned the South's unmet expectations that the Chinese would support the denuclearization of North Korea, but stressed the need to maintain a friendly relationship with China, while standing firmly with the US.
Concluding the forum, Qatari Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulaziz bin Saleh al-Khulaifi highlighted Qatar's role in promoting dialogue, diplomacy and advocating for non-violent solutions through mediation.
“Now is the time for us to take this action,” al-Khulaifi said, urging to turn the forum's insights into actionable initiatives.
Qatar is positioning itself as a facilitator in the global arena of geopolitics, and a hub for international conversations and negotiations.
The discussions centered on the urgency of a cease-fire in Gaza, stressing humanitarian diplomacy within the multilateral system. However, the attendees also expressed skepticism about the international system's effectiveness. Despite extensive dialogue, the forum concluded without a concrete resolution, and the United States' vote against a Gaza cease-fire resolution before the event added complexity to the discussions.