by Simone Galimberti
It is almost unimaginable, at least for the moment, to foresee how the unfolding crisis in Gaza will evolve.
What is happening there will probably change for good the political landscape of the wider Middle East, and solving this intractable conundrum is going to be a test of the effectiveness of diplomacy and conflict mediation.
This piece advocates that the Muslim nations of Southeast Asia are not only big enough and credible enough but also resourceful enough to assert a role and help solve the crisis.
Both in short and long-term levels.
First, at the humanitarian level, a concerted effort must be organized.
Then, second, they should ensure that they have a voice and presence in any future political agreement relating to the right of the Palestinians to live in their own nation, side by side with Israel.
For countries like Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia won’t be easy but at least they will have massive public support back home.
This factor can make a difference, prodding the leaders of these nations to think and act boldly.
There is no doubt that the facts on the ground, the overall number of casualties from both sides, and the human tragedies ripping apart entire families, will definitely define any possible future negotiated outcome, both in the short and long term.
We cannot ignore the influence of the emerging outrage, something that risks becoming consolidated, in condemning Israel’s bombing of civilians.
Any diplomatic effort mediated by third parties, the USA and the Gulf monarchies, is going, at the end, to be influenced by the public opinion around the war.
In the West, we are witnessing a flip in collective opinion about the way Israel is disproportionally causing a widespread humanitarian disaster, as more and more people around the world condemn its actions targeting civil population.
Inevitably, the unfolding of this outrage will weaken Israel’ global standing for many years to come.
Its overall reputation and moral sanding has been greatly damaged even though no credible voice is denying its right to self-defence against the barbarous atrocities committed by Hamas.
In other parts of the world, especially where Islam is the predominant faith, the existing rancour and hatred that build on a long-standing disdain and resentment towards Israel, will mount a formidable challenge towards any peaceful resolution of conflict.
No one can imagine, at the moment, how the Abraham Accords, the process of rapprochement between Jerusalem and the capitals of the Gulf monarchies, can move ahead not only in the coming months but even in the coming years.
Only a total wiping out of Hamas, if such a thing is possible, and the handover of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority and the restart of the peace process aimed at establishing a two state solutions, could, possibly, reactivate a process of regional integration.
As per now, no one seems able to influence the pattern of war being pursued by Israel.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is relentlessly mediating a humanitarian pause and he is going nowhere.
The Gulf monarchies are buying their times, trying to find a balance in embracing their citizens ‘outrage towards Israel but at the same time remaining keen at not jeopardizing the building blocks of a rapprochement with Israel.
Forget about the Europeans.
Their ego, boosted because of their united approach towards the Russian aggression of Ukraine, got a strong reality check after struggling to find a common position.
They have been struggling to reconcile a condemnation of the atrocities committed by Hamas with the moral imperative of urging Israel from refrain from actions that could be held as possible war crimes.
In this complex scenario, the Muslim nations of Southeast Asia must find their own space, becoming visible and active in the negotiations.
Surely now, the international community has become aware that over the years these nations have been offering solidarity and providing support and resources to the people of Palestine, both in Gaza and in the West Bank.
Many in the West are hearing, for the first time, the paramount difference being made by the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza.
If there is one area where nations like Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia can play a role, in the immediate terms, is coming up with a massive humanitarian package.
On this front, perhaps the three nations could even be able to mobilize the whole ASEAN, now a silent and paralyzed actor, not even bothered to express a clear position.
Even countries like Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore, all with very sizeable Muslim communities, could play along and support an ASEAN Humanitarian Initiative.
If you think about it, there is nothing so controversial in coming up with relief package for the people of Gaza.
What it is needed is the political capital and willingness to spring to action.
Perhaps this could be the last act of the Indonesian Chairmanship of ASEAN, the last chance of redemption for President Jokowi, whose credibility at home got greatly damaged since one of his sons was cleared to run as vice-president in the next year election.
It is now widely believed that his last years in office have been utterly disappointing.
His work at the helm of ASEAN, rather than being transformative, has been mediocre, without any ambitious actions being undertaken.
So this could be the last call, the last chance for Jokowi to make a difference before passing the torch to Laos next year.
Yet, even without the whole ASEAN on board, the situation is so dire in the Middle East that something must be done by the Muslim nations of South East Asia.
If a combo package coordinated through ASEAN won’t work out, then President Jakowi, Prime Minister Anwar of Malaysia and Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei must do something big and they should do together.
These three nations should lead an unprecedented humanitarian effort between now and the in the aftermath of the war.
This won’t be enough.
Any possible future settled outcome of the Palestinian conundrum, especially a restart of the negotiations towards a two-state solutions, should see a strong involvement of these three nations.
Their role and potential prowess in any negotiations should not be discounted.
After all, together, the three leaders could make their voices heard with their counterparts in the Gulf.
For example, they should pressure Saudi Arabia from refraining to re-start, once the conflict will be over, any discussions on the Abrahams Accords unless the Palestinians will get not just a fair deal but a very good one.
They should make it clear to the leaders of the UAE and Bahrain that any real process of pacification with Israel cannot happen nor can be accepted by the global Islamic world without taking into accounts the rights and aspirations of the Palestinians.
Probably in years down the line from now, if and when a final two-state solution will be agreed upon by the negotiating parties, the three predominant Muslim nations of South East Asia should also step in.
On the one hand, there will be the physical reconstruction, not only of Gaza but of the whole of Palestine, including equipping the West Bank with modern infrastructures.
On the other one, there will be the complex process of nation-building, the hard job of turning the Palestinian Authority into an effective state able to provide for its people.
In both phases, room should be created not only for the Gulf Monarchies but also for the Americans and the Europeans to play a big role.
South-East Asian nations should have a seat on the table and offer their assistance and their know-how.
After all, we are now well into an era of multipolar powers where emerging nations are strongly asserting their rights and influence.
The tragic events unfolding in Gaza could provide an opportunity for the most ambitious nations of South East Asia to prove their credentials.
Finally, they could have a bigger voice in helping solve what is the most consequential global challenge of our era.
For the current and upcoming leaders of Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia is high time to raise and stand out in solidarity with the victims of the vicious cycle of Middle East violence and help rebuild hope.
The author writes on regional issues concerning the Asia Pacific region with a special focus on the process of integration in South East Asia.