28th Feb 2024


Supporting Israel 'becoming unbearable', says ex-UN chair

  • Mogens Lykketoft: 'It's becoming unbearable, both from an ordinary human point of view, but also political and geopolitical, to continue the support for this [Israeli] campaign' (Photo: EUobserver)
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Israel's "revenge" on Gaza was so "unbearable" that Western leaders letting it go on risked losing the Global South and their own voters, a Danish former president of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has warned.

"We have never seen such a ruthless campaign, military campaign against civilians in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Never. Never. Never," said Mogens Lykketoft, the Danish former foreign minister, who chaired the UNGA in 2015.

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"It looks much more like revenge than a rational military reaction," he said.

Military experts had advised him that "if it's about taking out the leadership of Hamas it could have been done with much fewer civilian casualties," Lykketoft added.

Israel has killed approximately 19,700 people in Gaza, most of them children and women (according to UN-cited figures), in the past 10 weeks.

Hamas, the Palestinian group which rules Gaza, killed some 1,200 Israelis and took around 240 hostages on 7 October.

The Danish politician spoke to EUobserver ahead of a UN Security Council (UNSC) vote on Gaza.

This was first scheduled for Monday (18 December), then delayed till Wednesday, because the US was vetoing a resolution calling for a full "cessation of hostilities", while signalling it might back a temporary "suspension".

The last time the UNSC voted, on 8 December, 13 out of its 15 members, including EU states France and Malta, had wanted a ceasefire. The US vetoed and the UK abstained.

The vast majority (153) of UNGA's 193 members, and 17 out of the 27 EU countries, also voted for a ceasefire on 12 December.

Speaking of Hamas' 7 October attack, Lykketoft said: "I think every decent human being in the [Global] North and South found the Hamas terror action gruesome, unforgivable".

"But what has happened afterwards is not using the right to self defence, it is a mass killing of civilians," he added.

The fact the US and many EU leaders weren't even urging Israel to stop meant they were hardening anti-Western feeling in African, Asian, and South American countries, he warned.

"It's becoming unbearable, both from an ordinary human point of view, but also political and geopolitical, to continue the support for this [Israeli] campaign," he said.

"The unlimited support for Israel's right to self-defence expressed by major Western powers has been yet another illustration for many countries in the Global South that we have double standards when we talk about just wars and respect for civilians," Lykketoft said.

And the "double-standards" on Gaza were especially toxic for historical reasons, he added.

"Not only in the Arab world, or the Muslim world, but also in many, many countries in Africa, they see the Palestinian fight over the past 75 years for their own state as a continuation of the de-colonisation of their own countries," Lykketoft said.

Western leaders who stood by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu risked paying a political as well as a geopolitical price, he said.

"The only power in the world that can change Israeli policy is the United States," he noted, giving US president Joe Biden a "special obligation".

And Biden was polling behind ex-president Donald Trump in states such as Georgia and Michigan ahead of next year's US elections in part due to the Gaza effect, Lykketoft said.

"He [Biden] lost the Muslim votes, but is also losing young people," the Danish politician said.

"In this very new, ugly situation of the mass killing, mass destruction taking place in Gaza — public opinion is changing. It is changing [also] in Europe. We see all the demonstrations," he added.

Lykketoft warned that Netanyahu espoused extreme views.

"Netanyahu, and that's very important to understand, is of the background of those people who want to drive Palestinians out of Palestine," including Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Lykketoft said.

Forever war

And if Israeli aggression were allowed to continue unchecked, it might never end, he added.

"It will be a never-ending campaign. And Hamas will be like a Hydra [a mythological monster]. You cut off one head, but then two come out", he said, referring to expectations that Israel's war on Gaza will radicalise more of its enemies.

"If you try to bombard the support of a government out of the population by carpet bombing, you get the opposite. We know that from history," Lykketoft said.

The Danish politician tried to visit Gaza four times in different official capacities, but was always blocked by Israel.

Israel accuses the UN of antisemitism on grounds it issues more resolutions on Palestine than other wars around the world.

But that was disingenuous, Lykketoft said, because it left out key facts.

"The conflict in the 'historic' Palestine has always had the potential to blow up the whole Middle East," he said.

"Israel is one of the few nations created by a decision of the UN," he added, referring to UNGA resolution 181 in 1947.

"We always have to remember that there was also a decision that there should be a Palestinian state and Jerusalem should be an internationally-controlled area," he said.

And the UN was central to the conflict in practical ways, because it provided food, education, and healthcare in Gaza, he noted.

Israeli fire has killed more than 100 UN staff since 7 October. "UN facilities have been indiscriminately bombarded," Lykketoft stated.


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