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What role should Asian countries play amid Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

May 31, 2024 - 15:56 By Ji Da-gyum
Palestinians make their way as they inspect damages after Israeli forces withdrew from a part of Jabalia refugee camp, following a raid in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday. (Reuters)

JEJU ISLAND -- South Korea and other Asian countries should take a realistic approach and explore feasible options for de-escalating the conflict in the Gaza Strip, while acknowledging the limitations of their influence on the matter, Asia-based experts said Thursday during the Jeju Forum.

"The Korean government should soberly evaluate the extent of its leverage in shaping its stance on the issue," Ma Young-sam, who served as South Korean ambassador to Israel as well as the inaugural head of the Representative Office of the Republic of Korea to Palestine, said during the session, "Role of the Asian Powers in Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict."

Ma pointed out the implication of the ongoing "significant conflict" between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US Biden administration over Israel's assault on Gaza.

"This means that even the United States' position is often ignored by Israel, resulting in our leverage being much lower," Ma said. "Therefore, we need to seriously consider what options are available to us. We must make a concerted effort to maintain a delicate balance between ideals and realities."

Ma also underscored that South Korea "should take a highly realistic approach in defining its relationships with Israel and Palestine, respectively."

Ma outlined three strategies for South Korea's potential contribution to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and fostering a future for Palestine.

Ma said South Korea could "play the role of peace promoter," aligning itself with other Arab nations such as Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, the UAE and Oman, in advocating for the release of hostages and a cease-fire.

Furthermore, South Korea should carefully consider its potential involvement in a peacekeeping force in post-war Gaza.

Ma proposed that South Korea should also explore ways to contribute to capacity building in Palestine during the post-war period. Capacity-building is essential for Palestine's democratic and socioeconomic development.

As part of efforts, Ma suggested a "significant increase" in financial aid and development cooperation to Palestine, utilizing channels such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East or UNRWA.

The Korea-Arab Society and the Middle East Council on Global Affairs host the session, "The Role of the Asian Powers in Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," on Thursday during the ninth Jeju Forum. (Jeju Forum)

Dharmawan Ronodipuro, a veteran Indonesian diplomat, said, "The Global South can do many things, but we have to be realistic."

"There is only one state that could actually push Israel to do something, and unfortunately, the situation is very much dependent on that," Ronodipuro, who was a foreign policy advisor to Prabowo Subianto during the 2014 Indonesian presidential elections, said, referring to the US.

"However, in the meantime, I think the Global South, for instance, in the case of Indonesia, could try to act through its actions, through its bilateral relations and possibly through its relations with other like-minded countries, to try to push the United States to bring pressure to bear on Israel to stop this extremely unhappy situation."

Ronodipuro called for the need to devise a "new architecture" for peace in Gaza, which "should not only include the region but also actors from the Global South."

"In this regard, a number of Asian states can play an important role even though some of them cannot be categorized as part of the global South," he said.

"While some Asian governments may be constrained by the political and security relations with the United States, the role of their civil society and nongovernmental organizations could be quite significant," he continued.

Yuko Nakajima, president of Medecins Sans Frontieres in Japan and an emergency physician, urged Asian countries to take an active role in Gaza. During her mission in Gaza in November and December 2023, as part of the first Emergency Response Team deployed after Hamas' attack on Israeli towns on October 7, 2023, she was the sole Asian representative on the ground.

Experts from Indonesia and China highlighted the significant role that Asian countries play in ensuring representation for Palestine and the voice of its people in post-war reconstruction and recovery efforts.

Ronodipuro reiterated the importance of post-conflict reconstruction as an integral part of establishing an independent and sovereign state of Palestine, adhering to the international parameters of the two-state solution.

Ronodipuro urged Asian countries to ensure Palestinian representation at the negotiating table.

"But one point that I would like to stress is that in all these discussions, the Palestinian voice should be heard. The Palestinian voices have always been somewhat marginalized," he said. "So, when we go back to the reconstruction of the occupied Palestinian territories, it is important to also have the Palestinian side sit at the table."

Fan Shiming, a professor of International Relations at Peking University, expressed China's aim to enhance diplomatic mediation for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Fan highlighted the role of the UN Security Council, where China holds a permanent seat, in "facilitating peace to prevent the conflict from escalating and upholding peace and stability in the Middle East."

Additionally, Fan noted that China seeks a political settlement to the conflict, which, in China's view, entails "the implementation of the restoration of the legitimate national rights of Palestine and the establishment of an independent state of Palestine."

As of May 27, the Ministry of Health in Gaza reported that a minimum of 36,050 Palestinians have lost their lives in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7. Additionally, 81,026 Palestinians have been reported injured.