Geo-Economics and Politics

Middle East: Insights and discussion at Davos 2024

Could the urgency of the crisis prove to be a catalyst that motivates regional actors to find creative solutions? Image: World Economic Forum

Maroun Kairouz
Head of Middle East and North Africa, World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Diverse insights at Davos 2024 highlighted the crisis in Gaza and its interconnectedness with multiple regional conflicts.
  • The stark disparity in perspectives illustrates the daunting challenge ahead and the sheer difficulty in bridging differences to bring durable peace and stability to the region.
  • But some leaders suggested the Gaza crisis could accelerate a political solution and put the Abraham Accords back on track

The severity of the fractures and their rapid spread across the region, following Hamas’s coordinated attacks on 7 October, 2023, underscores their deep roots and the need for more than temporary arrangements.

While sessions on the Middle East at Davos 2024 may have fallen short of laying out a roadmap for addressing either the immediate humanitarian crises or the broader political challenges, these discussions set the stage for ongoing dialogue and action, urging policy-makers, international organizations and regional players to commit to a path of peace and stability.

Regional leaders underscored the gravity of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the complexity of the geopolitical dynamics shaping the region, and the dire necessity of preventing wider conflict. However, the stark disparity in perspectives illustrates the daunting challenge ahead, highlighting a profound chasm in viewpoints and the sheer difficulty in bridging differences to bring durable peace and stability to the region.

What emerged at Davos was a broad international consensus on the urgent need for a two-state solution, but the specifics of any such solution are contentious and remain elusive.

The urgency of crisis could, however, prove to be a catalyst that motivates regional actors to find creative solutions – including solutions that put Saudi-Israeli normalization back on track.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Tuesday that a political agreement creating a Palestinian state would entail Riyadh’s recognition of Israel. “We agree that regional peace includes peace for Israel, but that could only happen through peace for the Palestinians through a Palestinian state,” Prince Faisal said.

A central focus of a session titled “Middle East: What is the Endgame?”, which featured valuable insights from Karin von Hippel, Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, Geir O. Pedersen and Vali R. Nasr, addressed the broader regional crisis and urged an understanding of Iran’s strategic intentions, and a clear sense of the limits of its control over other regional actors, such as Hezbollah and the Yemeni Houthis.

“I do believe the Iranians are playing with fire,” said Pedersen, but added that its escalations were strategic and intended to gain leverage, noting that while Iran will continue to exert regional interests, its actions and decisions are calculated and take into account the broader implications for regional stability.

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In a conversation with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, said, “We still welcome any kind of endeavour, any kind of initiative, any kind of a step that will help bring back all the parties to JCPoA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran Nuclear Deal],” and, "We believe that if the American side has enough will and the required will all, then we can achieve the deal."

Speaking to Børge Brende, Mohammad Mustafa, Chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund, emphasized the role of the Palestinian Authority and the crucial need for financial and logistical support for reconstruction efforts.

He explained how the conflict has already had economic impacts across the region far beyond Gaza that will also require financial support, facilitation of trade, and the proactive participation of both the public and private sectors. He decried military action as a solution to the crisis and suggested that if the situation could be resolved: “We will reciprocate and promise Israel that we will do everything we can together to ensure that Palestine will be a safe place and a secure place, a prosperous place, so that our people will live in dignity and therefore avoid any need for war.”

But he conceded that high levels of youth unemployment and poverty across parts of the region have already primed populations for radicalization.

Isaac Herzog discussed Israel's commitment to defending itself and the necessity of international support against threats, voicing uncertainty that Palestinian statehood would meaningfully improve its security. But the mechanisms for determining the political leadership of such a state remained unclear.

He acknowledged the hardships faced by Gazans and advocated for peace: “We have to offer a future, both to Israelis and Palestinians, and offer a future that we can live together.”

In a separate session, the issue of gender-based violence with respect to the atrocities of 7 October was raised, while the husband of jailed Nobel Peace laureate, Narges Mohammadi, in conversation with Sasha Vakulina, called on Western leaders engaging with Iran to put women's rights at the heart of any negotiations with the Islamic Republic.

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