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The Rules-Based International Order Is Collapsing in Gaza

Abdullah Gul

In 2007, I found myself in a car with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and then-Israeli President Shimon Peres en route to Turkey’s Grand National Assembly. During their historic visit to Ankara, which I had the privilege of hosting, both leaders addressed the Turkish parliament, advocating peace and a two-state solution. This was just two years after Turkey launched its Industry for Peace project, which sought to rehabilitate the Erez industrial park in Gaza. When my Palestinian and Israeli counterparts and I endorsed this initiative, we were all optimistic that developing the Palestinian economy would pave a path toward sustainable peace in the region.

Regrettably, this dream was extinguished by Israel’s decision that year to impose a land, sea, and air blockade on Gaza. Sixteen years later, having witnessed the events of October 7 and its aftermath, I am once again overcome by disappointment and sorrow over this lost opportunity for lasting peace.

October 7 marks a major turning point in Israeli-Palestinian relations, with far-reaching domestic, regional, and global implications. At this critical juncture, we must ask ourselves: Are we truly committed to maintaining a rules-based international order rooted in shared values, or are we prepared for a fragmented and polarized world where these values are obsolete?

Make no mistake: I unequivocally condemn the loss of civilian lives on both sides. Hamas’s killing and abduction of Israeli civilians must not be endorsed under any circumstances. At the same time, the disproportionate response of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government will not only lead to more violence and suffering across the region but also fuel the spread of hatred and division around the world. Ultimately, it is civilians who suffer the consequences.

The tragic events unfolding in Gaza should not come as a surprise. Neglecting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has never been sustainable, especially as the plight of Palestinians worsens by the day. Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories, aggravated by its illegal and pernicious expansion of settlements in the West Bank, contravenes United Nations Security Council resolutions, undermines the foundational principles of international law, and violates established human-rights norms.

Moreover, the ongoing blockade of Gaza has segregated and traumatized the enclave’s 2.3 million inhabitants, depriving them of basic necessities. Making matters worse, the West and even the Arab world have grown accustomed to this grim status quo. This historic miscalculation has stoked Palestinians’ anger, setting the stage for the current conflict.

In 1999, as a member of parliament on a fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip established by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I saw the helplessness in the eyes of Palestinian children and women. Our report highlighted the untenable living conditions and mounting frustration among the Palestinian populace. In my subsequent visits as Turkey’s foreign minister and president, it was evident that the situation had worsened, as the political rifts driving this enduring conflict became even more entrenched.

Over the past five decades, the international community has failed to champion the only viable solution: the establishment of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. As opportunities slipped by, conditions on the ground deteriorated rapidly. Today, Palestinian children are reportedly writing farewell letters to their families as they prepare for the possibility of losing their lives in an Israeli bombardment. This state of affairs is bound to breed even more despair and animosity.

Israel’s tactics in Gaza obviously violate the laws of war. Depriving Gazans of electricity, water, and food, as well as targeting residential areas, hospitals, mosques, churches, schools, and refugee camps, is incompatible with the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols. These attacks are nothing short of a war crime, and history will undoubtedly hold those responsible to account.

Given its conduct, it is baffling that Israel has managed to retain the steadfast support of Western countries, particularly the United States. Those who blindly support Israel’s actions should ask themselves: If we do not uphold the territorial integrity of Palestine, how can we convincingly defend Ukraine’s? If you do not respect international law, how will you remain credible? This double standard undermines the rules-based global order and plays into the hands of authoritarian leaders and extremist movements that thrive on exploiting such inconsistencies.

Avoiding this scenario will require adherence to international law and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which has been endorsed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and notably also embraced by Iran, represents a viable path forward and offers a realistic framework for upholding Palestinians’ rights and dignity.

But first, we must stop the bloodshed and demand an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s efforts to draw attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, even amid the “veto wars” at the Security Council, are commendable. Additionally, the contribution of Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, known for his deep understanding of Middle East dynamics, will be crucial to achieving a peaceful resolution.

To prevent further violence and suffering, an honest and constructive approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is imperative. Effective diplomacy, underpinned by a strong sense of regional responsibility, represents the best way forward. The current war in Gaza is a test of our commitment to a rules-based international order. Now more than ever, we must rely on the moral compass of international law to guide our actions.

Abdullah Gül is a former president of the Republic of Turkey.

C-Project Syndicate

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