Leaders of major emerging economies called for an end to the Israeli war on Gaza on Tuesday and for a cessation of hostilities on both sides to alleviate the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
At a virtual summit chaired by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the BRICS group denounced attacks on civilians in Palestine and Israel, with many leaders calling the forced displacement of Palestinians, inside Gaza or outside the territory, of “war crimes”.
“We condemned any form of individual or mass forcible transfer and expulsion of Palestinians from their own land,” the president’s summary read. The group, which did not issue a joint statement, also “reiterated that the forcible transfer and deportation of Palestinians, whether within Gaza or to neighboring countries, constitute serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law.”
The BRICS are made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, all large emerging economies seeking a greater say in a world order long dominated by the United States. United and their Western allies. These countries are often considered the leaders of what is known in international politics as the “Global South”.
But it wasn’t just these five countries that spoke about war on Tuesday. Earlier this year, BRICS agreed to expand and add Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran starting in 2024. The leaders of these six countries also participated in the meeting convened by South Africa. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also joined the summit.
The Chair Summary — essentially a snapshot of the mood in the room — highlights growing calls from the Global South to end the war in the Gaza Strip. The conflict began after an October 7 attack on Israeli communities by the armed group Hamas, which left 1,200 people dead and another 240 taken hostage. In response, Israel relentlessly bombed Gaza, targeting hospitals, schools and refugee camps and killing more than 13,000 people, including many children, in violation of international law.
Since then, millions of people across Africa, Asia and the Middle East have demonstrated for a “free Palestine” and called for a ceasefire. Experts in Africa and elsewhere have accused the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union of hypocrisy in claiming to be bastions of democracy and human rights while supporting Israel’s war in Gaza.
A “growing self-affirmation”
While the president’s summary seemed “gentle and somewhat balanced” according to Steven Gruzd, an analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), some countries were more combative in their presentations.
In his opening speech to the meeting, the current BRICS chair, South African President Ramaphosa, said that Israel’s actions “constitute a flagrant violation of international law” and that the “collective punishment of Palestinian civilians by Israel” is a war crime… tantamount to a war crime. to genocide.” Ramaphosa also said Hamas had “violated international law and must be held accountable”.
India’s stance was comparatively softer, with Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar saying there was a “need for restraint and immediate humanitarian support”, as well as a “peaceful resolution through dialogue and diplomacy.
Many member states, including Russia and Brazil, have already criticized Israel’s incessant bombing and, now, the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. China, for its part, this week hosted a delegation of Muslim countries, officials and organizations seeking a ceasefire, including the Palestinian Authority (PA).
India, however, has not been as vocal and has in fact suppressed pro-Palestinian protests at home, seemingly siding with Israel and its biggest benefactor, the United States, in this matter. which is considered a split within BRICS itself.
But that division did not appear glaring at Tuesday’s summit, which experts say is the first meeting of its kind for a group that had previously focused on economic issues.
“I’m not sure I remember a similar extraordinary summit being called,” Gruzd told Al Jazeera. “This reflects the growing assertiveness and confidence of the BRICS group, which does not wait for the West. BRICS have generally avoided political and security issues; this meeting goes against that trend.
Together, the BRICS countries represent 40% of the world’s population and a quarter of the world economy.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi – Israel’s archenemy – said the Palestinians should organize a referendum to determine their fate.
Yet many BRICS countries – not just India – have established ties with Israel that they will be reluctant to sever.
China invests heavily in Israel, Gruzd notes, while India has even deeper historical ties to that country and maintains military and technological partnerships with it. But with a feisty Iran joining the group, India may not be able to influence how the new BRICS+ responds to Israel, Gruzd said.
South Africa, currently the smallest BRICS country and itself experiencing an oppressive apartheid regime for over four decades, sees its own struggle mirrored in that of the Palestinians and has always been one of the the strongest calls for a ceasefire, analysts said.
At the same time, it has long been Israel’s largest trading partner in Africa. On Tuesday, that relationship seemed to have reached a turning point.
Members of Parliament have voted to close the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, marking a turning point in the crisis. The country’s diplomats had already been recalled from Israel on November 6. Israel recalled its ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotserkovsky, on Monday for “consultations” in response to growing hostility from Pretoria.
Alongside Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros and Djibouti last week, South Africa also submitted a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate whether war crimes were committed. committed in Gaza.
A turning point?
South Africa’s Minister for the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, applied further pressure on Monday, calling for an ICC arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that it would be a “total failure” if the court was not investigating the leader.
Earlier this year, South Africa successfully convinced Russia not to send President Vladimir Putin to the annual BRICS summit in August due to an ICC arrest warrant issued against him on war crimes charges. committed in Ukraine. If Putin had attended the summit in South Africa, the country, a signatory to the ICC, would have been obliged to arrest him.
Tuesday’s BRICS stance, initiated by South Africa, could push more countries to openly denounce the war, said Muhammed Desai of Africa4Palestine, an advocacy group.
“South Africa is a significant economic and political power on the African continent as well as a country with one of the largest embassies and high commissions in the world,” Desai said. “So his position and his position carry weight in the diplomatic arena. »
But the coalition’s political weight is not great enough to have a real impact on the direction of Israel’s war, others say. “Frankly, I don’t think they directly have much influence on Israel,” said SAIIA’s Gruzd. “I also don’t think it will have much effect on the West, other than increasing the voices calling for a ceasefire.” »
However, their influence is growing. Dozens of countries have applied or expressed interest in joining BRICS, a major reason for their expansion earlier this year, as countries seek to reduce their dependence on the US-led Western financial system. United.
Russia, which will take over the group’s presidency in 2024, is expected to encourage the use of local currencies for international trade payments, as opposed to the dominant US dollar.
This platform, some say, is necessary so that the voice of the South can be heard. “Within the global order, BRICS offers another voice,” said Desai of Africa4Palestine, and “this is necessary to counter the current Western hegemonic vision.”
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