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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Norway keen to end the war in Gaza

The Norwegian government hosted foreign ministers from the Middle East, the Nordic- and Benelux countries in Oslo on Friday, in its latest attempt to help halt hostilities in Gaza. Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide isn’t giving up on his own calls for a permanent cease-fire and a two-state solution.

Foreign ministers from the Middle East, the Nordic- and Benelux countries gathered in Oslo on Friday to discuss the war in Gaza. Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide and Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (front row center), both of whom have long experience in attempts at to secure peace in the Middle East, were their hosts. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Killian Munch

Eide had promised “an open and honest discussion about the war in Gaza.” He said his guests in Oslo all shared “deep concern for the population of Gaza. We believe it’s urgent to stop the war and bring an end to the enormous suffering.”

Norway was among the first countries to claim that Israel was “going too far” with its attacks on Gaza, carried out in retaliation for the radical Palestinian organization Hamas’ brutal attacks on both military and civilian targets on October 7. More and more countries share Eide’s opinion, with an overwhelming majority voting in favour of a UN resolution this week for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza.

Eide and Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre are careful to stress that Israel has had a right to defend itself after Hamas’ initial attacks more than two months ago. Now, after Israeli forces have killed nearly 20,000 Palestinian civilians including several thousand children, and much of Gaza is in ruins, Norway thinks the killing and misery must end.

Foreign ministers from the Middle East and Europe spent several hours around this table on Friday. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Killian Munch

The prime ministers of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands agree hostilities must end, as does the secretary general of the Organizaton for Islamic Cooperation, who also attended Friday’s meeting. Middle Eastern members of the group had taken the initiative for the meeting in Oslo through their “Contact Group for Gaza” that also has met with leaders in the US, China and Russia.

Neither Israel nor Hamas were represented at the meeting, with Eide admitting to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) earlier in the day that there is “no interest for that type of dialogue now, but we have to talk about this because there must be some adults around in this absolutely terrible situation.”

Eide had said he was especially worried over “how the war has increased polarization between countries,” and hoped the meeting could help ease that. The group also discussed the need to strengthen the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has administrative control of the West Bank, and to renew international cooperation for a two-state solution.

‘Good ideas’
He said at a press conference following the meeting that “we have heard several good ideas for the way forward,” not least about how a two-state solution could be set up. Saudi Arabia’s Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud called for the formation of a Palestinian state as soon as possible, while the PA’s foreign minster Riyad al-Maliki warned against taking too much time to act. He worries that the longer it takes, the more “innocent civilians” will be killed. Al-Maliki also strongly objected to how Palestinian civilians are being forced to move south in Gaza and, some fear, into Sinai even though Egypt has kept its border to Gaza closed.

Jørgen Jensehaugen, a senior researcher at the Norwegian peace research organization PRIO in Oslo, noted that two other key players were missing from Friday’s meeting: Egypt and the US. Egypt has facilitated Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the US is viewed as the only country that can pressure Israel into peace talks.

Jensehaugen told NRK that Norway could be a facilitator for new peace talks, noting how the country already plays a major role in leading foreign aid efforts for the Palestinians. Norway will also have an important role in rebuilding Gaza after the war.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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