Foreign Minister’s Middle East Visit: Japan Should Play Role in Averting Humanitarian Crisis

The death toll from the military clash between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas has exceeded 10,000. Japan, which has contributed to peace and stability in the Middle East, should make diplomatic efforts to avert a humanitarian crisis.

Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa visited Israel, the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and Jordan.

In her meeting with her Israeli counterpart, Kamikawa urged for a temporary ceasefire in the Palestinian territory of Gaza. Later, the foreign minister met with relatives of people taken hostage by Hamas. During her talks with the Palestinian authority’s foreign minister, she also conveyed Japan’s intentions to expand humanitarian assistance.

The Middle East issue is the most important item on the agenda for a Group of Seven foreign ministers’ meeting that will begin in Tokyo on Tuesday. As the current G7 president, Japan has the responsibility to compile a common message. Kamikawa must share information about the situation in the region with the other G7 foreign ministers and lead them to a united response.

Japan has long supported the “two-state solution,” an approach to realize Israeli and Palestinian coexistence as states, and has built good relations with both sides. It has never been involved in a conflict in the Middle East.

Because of this history, Japan is in a position to take the lead in calling for a ceasefire, but it cannot be said that Tokyo is making its presence felt.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a ceasefire for humanitarian purposes, but Japan abstained on the grounds that it did not include a condemnation of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas.

Although the resolution was rejected at that time, Canada submitted an amendment that included a condemnation of terrorism. Japan should have played such a role.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has repeatedly said that creating an environment for humanitarian assistance is a “top priority,” but just saying that will not effectively convey Japan’s diplomatic policy to the international community.

Hamas has indiscriminately killed Israeli civilians and continues to hold many abducted residents in violation of international humanitarian law. Acts such as hiding in refugee camps in Gaza to use civilians as shields are also despicable.

At the same time, Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza cannot be overlooked. International law stipulates two criteria for exercising the right of self-defense: “necessity,” meaning there is no other means than the use of force, and “proportionality,” in which it is not out of proportion to the damage already suffered.

Israel’s airstrikes are excessive attacks that go beyond the scope of self-defense, as they have inflicted a tremendous number of civilian casualties, and they can be called a clear violation of international law.

It is reasonable for Japan, which has advocated the importance of the rule of law to the international community, to urge Israel to exercise restraint. It is also necessary for Japan to persistently encourage the West to unite in respect for universal principles, such as respect for life and human rights, and to urge both sides to respect these principles.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 5, 2023)