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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS

BRICS-Plus leaders agree to disagree on contentious Middle East issues

BRICS-Plus leaders agree to disagree on contentious Middle East issues
President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the BRICS-Plus leaders’ extraordinary summit on the Middle East crisis. (Photo: Jairus Mmutle / GCIS)

In a virtual summit held on Tuesday, leaders of the BRICS-Plus bloc skirted potential disagreements over members’ differing positions on the Middle East conflict.

The leaders of the 11 BRICS-Plus countries agreed to disagree on some contentious issues – particularly on Hamas –  in their virtual summit on the crisis in Israel and Gaza on Tuesday, 21 November. 

The leaders issued a “chair’s summary” of the meeting rather than a joint communique. This approach allowed them to avoid having to find common positions on divisive questions. 

brics-plus middle east

President Cyril Ramaphosa attends the BRICS leaders’ extraordinary virtual summit on the Middle East crisis. (Photo: Jairus Mmutle / GCIS)

The virtual summit was chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa, as current chairperson of BRICS, and attended by the leaders of the other BRICS member states: Brazil, Russia and China plus the foreign minister of India. 

The six new states admitted as BRICS members in August – Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – also participated.

Argentina was represented by its foreign minister while the others were represented by heads of state or government. UN Secretary-General António Guterres also attended.

A conspicuous absentee was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, apparently because of a clash of schedules. But it is also possible he stayed away because India has a different approach to the Middle East crisis from most of the others.

Ramaphosa’s “chair’s summary” navigated carefully around some differences. For example, he said the leaders had “recalled our national positions concerning the situation in Gaza as expressed in the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly”.

In other words, the countries participating in the summit stuck to their differing positions at the UN. All the BRICS-Plus nations – except India and Ethiopia – voted for the General Assembly resolution of 27 October calling for an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian access to Gaza.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

India and Ethiopia abstained from the vote because the resolution did not condemn Hamas for its attack on Israel on 7 October in which about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and about 240 hostages taken. That triggered a sustained Israeli assault on Gaza aimed at eliminating Hamas. About 13,000 people have been killed in Gaza, mostly civilians. 

Ramaphosa’s chair’s statement also said: “Acts of violence aimed at Palestinian and Israeli civilians were condemned, including war crimes, indiscriminate attacks and targeting of civilian infrastructure, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction.”

He did not say which leaders had condemned the violence against civilians on both sides. It is unlikely that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi would have joined in the condemnation of Hamas’s attack on Israel since it provides military and financial support to the group.

Similarly, Ramaphosa said, “The Chair joined calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all civilians who are being illegally held captive, demanding that their safety, and well-being are guaranteed and that humane treatment is accorded to them in compliance with international law.”

This was a reference to the Israeli hostages that Hamas seized on 7 October, most of whom it is still holding. Raisi would probably not have joined the call on Hamas to release the hostages immediately and unconditionally. 

Ramaphosa also attributed to himself, as chair, rather than to the meeting as a whole, a call on the international community “to support direct negotiations… towards a two-state solution, leading to the establishment of a sovereign, independent and viable State of Palestine”.

Iran’s Raisi would have been unlikely to join that call either since Iran does not recognise the state of Israel.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel recalls its SA ambassador ahead of parliamentary vote on EFF motion to shut embassy in Pretoria

Ramaphosa’s statement expressed concern at “the grave deterioration of the situation in the region, in particular, the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and Israel”.

It called for immediate access to Gaza for humanitarian aid and criticised Israel for the “forced transfer and deportation of Palestinians from their own land”.

There appeared to be unanimity when the statement said: “We called for an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.”

There also seemed to be agreement among the leaders when they said: “We emphasised the importance of preventing further destabilisation and escalation of violence, including the spillover of the conflict in the region, and called upon all parties to exercise maximum restraint…”

The leaders agreed on no new initiatives or ideas to resolve the crisis and official sources said the meeting had largely been called to show that BRICS was concerned about the situation. DM

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