Top envoys from Muslim countries head to Moscow in effort to lift Gaza siege

Beijing was the delegation’s first destination on Monday, followed by Moscow on Tuesday and with London and Paris slated for Wednesday. Washington is not included.

Yvette Tanamal

Yvette Tanamal

The Jakarta Post


File picture from the Gaza Strip. PHOTO: PIXABAY

November 22, 2023

JAKARTA – Six top diplomats from Muslim-majority nations, including Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, were set to depart for Moscow on Tuesday as part of a string of diplomatic visits to countries key to the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The trip, which seeks to end the siege in Gaza and bring about a peace process, may face resistance from the West, analysts say, as Israel seeks to eradicate Hamas.

Over six weeks have elapsed since fighting began, sparked by a surprise Hamas incursion into Israel on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,000 people and in which the militant group took number of hostages. In response, Tel Aviv launched a military campaign in the Gaza Strip, besieging the Palestinian enclave while targeting refugee camps and hospitals it says double as militant strongholds. Over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed.

Despite the rapidly deteriorating conditions in the Gaza Strip, Israel has resisted efforts to bring about a cease-fire or pause the conflict.

The violence has sparked a global outcry, although support for Israel among influential Western nations, particularly those on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), has limited the international response.

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Recently, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) asked the top diplomats of Indonesia, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to kick-start international efforts to end the violent conflict, including by paying visits to the five permanent members of the UNSC: China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and the United States.

Beijing was the delegation’s first destination on Monday, followed by Moscow on Tuesday and with London and Paris slated for Wednesday. But Washington, a key player in the conflict and Israel’s most powerful ally, was not included in the envoys’ itinerary.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lalu M. Iqbal told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that the ministers had initially planned a visit to the US but that the plan was “contingent upon the readiness of the receiving country”.

A no-go from Washington might signal the firmness of Western policymakers stance on the conflict and could indicate a difficult road ahead for the traveling envoys, said Gadjah Mada University (UGM) international relations expert Dafri Agussalim on Tuesday.

“It’s an indication that the US is not too accommodating of such a visit. It’s a rejection, to put it bluntly,” Dafri told the Post. “The visit to China and perhaps Russia will not be such a big hurdle. But France, the UK and the US will be heavy tasks.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan told Al Jazeera that the envoys were using “all diplomatic and humanitarian means” to promote a cease-fire.

Western countries have predominantly supported Israel throughout the conflict, citing Tel Aviv’s right to self-defense against Hamas, despite global criticism that the attacks on the Gaza Strip have injured a large number of civilians and have gone well beyond the principle of proportionality.

Less than a day after the Oct. 7 attack, the US publicly pledged its unwavering support for Israel and since sent at least two aircraft carriers to the Middle East, in part to deter other parties from entering the conflict.

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Earlier this month, during a visit to Washington, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo publicly appealed to his US counterpart Joe Biden to use his power to help bring about a cease-fire and for the superpower to “do more to stop the atrocities in Gaza”. Biden did not immediately respond to the comment. Later, a joint statement said the two had agreed to “work together and with other regional partners for a durable peace through a two-state solution” but offered no further details.

Yet there might be strength in numbers, analysts pointed out. While bilateral appeals like Indonesia’s might not amount to much, the combined voices of the countries of the delegation, particularly those of Qatar and Jordan, could have a better chance of changing the status quo, they said.

Qatar is a close US ally and a regional power in the Middle East.

“These six countries together are an interesting mix, with an elevated bargaining position,” Dafri said. “It will still be difficult, and may amount to no results, but it is very much worth the effort.”

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