Gaza war ‘may be a curtain call’ for international order, Amnesty chief warns

Conference in London calls for pressure on western governments to find peaceful and just resolution to the conflict

Katherine Hearst

Agnes Callamard addresses the Balfour Project annual conference in London, 6 June (Caught the Light Photography)
Agnes Callamard addresses the Balfour Project annual conference in London, 6 June (Caught the Light Photography)

Israel’s war on Gaza may be “a curtain call” for the post-World War Tw0 international rules-based order, Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard said on Thursday.

“The gravity of the violations being committed, the fact that we are witnessing them every day… the flimsy justification by western democracies – all of these warn… of a possible total collapse of the rules-based order,” she said.

Speaking at the Balfour Project annual conference in London, Callamard denounced the US and UK’s continued backing of Israel’s offensive in Gaza as “making a mockery” of international law.

The conference dealt with the question how “peace with justice” can be achieved in Palestine, but many of the speakers highlighted how the actions of the UK, US and other western governments are at odds with this goal.

The United States’ Biden administration and the Conservative government in the UK have both pushed back on rulings against Israel by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), as well as the International Criminal Court’s application for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders.

They have also continued arms sales to Israel and cut funding to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, citing unproven Israeli allegations about 12 members of its staff.

Noting this, Callamard said that the governments were “accelerating” the risk of genocide in Gaza, a charge South Africa brought against Israel at the ICJ in a case that has been joined by several other countries, most recently Spain.

The consequences of the collapse of the rules-based order, she warned, reach beyond Gaza, inspiring “anger in all corners of the world”.

“We must adopt a posture of transformation.”

Failure at every fork in the road

On Friday, US President Joe Biden unveiled a three-phase plan to end the war in Gaza from the White House. However, a week later neither Hamas nor Israel have signed the plan.

In a copy of the proposal seen by Middle East Eye, Israel has not offered guarantees for a “permanent” ceasefire and a complete withdrawal from Gaza.

A statement put out by the White House, signed by several countries including the UK, called on Hamas to accept the US-backed proposal in its opening paragraph.

“As it became more evident that the problem here was with Jerusalem, we saw the US doubling down on this idea that the only people who had to give an answer was Hamas,” Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotator, told the conference.

Levy said whenever Israel’s western allies have been faced with a “fork in the road” and presented with a choice between “a sustained standoff with a recalcitrant Israeli leadership” or the default of “letting them off the hook”, they have always chosen the latter.

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Whilst Callamard and Levy spoke of barriers that western governments placed in the way of finding an end to the war, Palestinian speakers described what peace with justice would actually require. 

Nour Odeh, a political analyst and former spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority, spoke of the “sense of abandonment” among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

“Knowing that nobody will come to the rescue, not even their own government, when it comes to the discussion of the day after [the war], I think is very emblematic of how we got here,” Odeh said.

For Odeh, achieving “peace with justice” requires Palestinians to have political autonomy. But this is something that has been routinely denied to them.

Odeh was set to run as a candidate in the 2021 elections, which were indefinitely postponed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas citing Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian voters and candidates in occupied East Jerusalem.

“They have locked us in a situation where we are hostage to a divided and dysfunctional and paralysed political system where there is no discussion,” Odeh said.

The voices of Palestinians are also absent from western-led plans for Gaza’s post-war reconstruction. In December, international development agencies and urban planners met to map out blueprints for the transformation of the enclave into a commercial hub. 

“I have no doubt that there is enough expertise and enough people with heart and creativity in Gaza who can come up with a way to rebuild it – the way Palestinians want,” Odeh told MEE.

Historic British responsibility

The focus of the conference was also on the UK government’s alleged complicity in Israeli war crimes. 

The Balfour Project, a charity that focuses on Britain’s historic role in Palestine and responsibility for the absence of justice for Palestinians, issued a set of demands to the UK government, including halting arms sales to Israel and backing the ICJ’s rulings.

The charity’s vice chair, Phyllis Starkey, said the demands were intended to be used by voters to hold candidates in the upcoming elections to account over Gaza.

“We expect a future British government to make sure that those rights of Palestinians are properly respected,” Starkey said.

‘We expect a future British government to make sure that those rights of Palestinians are properly respected’

– Phyllis Starkey, Balfour Project

But Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), emphasised that Israel-Palestine would not be a defining issue in the elections, except in areas with high Muslim populations, where Labour in particular has been haemorrhaging Muslim support.

“What I think the [Labour] party machine and leadership has failed to take into account, is how much British Muslim communities are far more engaged in politics than they were 30 years ago,” Doyle told Middle East Eye.

“That will only get more pronounced and they are not prepared to be ridden roughshod over.”

Labour took more than four months to call for a ceasefire, only doing so in late February. After Labour leader Keir Starmer appeared to back Israel cutting food, electricity, fuel and water supplies to Gaza, a slew of councillors resigned.

Despite dumping its pledge to recognise a Palestinian state unilaterally, the UK’s Labour party manifesto for the upcoming election is expected to pledge recognition for Palestinian statehood.


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