Japan has called for moderation on both sides and to work toward a two-state solution that takes into account the aspirations and needs of the Palestinian people.
On October 7, the Palestinian militant organisation Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of over 1,400 people and the kidnapping of numerous hostages. Japan, being the only G7 country, expressed that Israel has a right to defend itself when Israel intensified its operations in the Gaza Strip after being attacked and around 2,000 Palestinians have been killed. Japan highly condemned the Hamas attacks but at the same time, also expressed concern over the casualties in Gaza caused by the Defence forces of Israel.
Japan is interested in the Middle East because of its oil resources, markets, investments, and international waterways including the Persian Gulf and the Suez Canal. Japan’s energy needs make the Middle East region significant. Japan is an important trading partner for the Middle East. The peace and stability of this region are extremely important for Japan and the entire international community owing to the major trade routes for the import and export of crucial materials.
Historical Background: If we look into history, the US disagreed with Japan’s move to recognize Palestinian rights. The US and its allies voted against the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) admittance and denounced it. Zionism was rejected by all other Western nations, and Japan denounced it as racism. One of the key tenets of Japanese Middle East policy has been support for the Palestinian cause. Some Japanese authorities think that settling the Israel-Palestine dispute is a prerequisite for achieving peace in the Middle East. In 1973, The Nikaido Statement was released by the Japanese government during the tenure of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. This declaration urged Israel to exercise patience while acknowledging the legitimacy of the Palestinian State. Japan has widely made use of its developmental aid and assistance as a form of its comprehensive security approach towards the Middle East. Furthermore, Japan has made use of its financial resources for humanitarian and economic assistance to the Palestinians.
Japan has maintained its decades-long approach since it recognised the legitimacy of the Palestinian State in 1973. Japan has called for moderation on both sides and to work toward a two-state solution that takes into account the aspirations and needs of the Palestinian people whenever there is an increase in tensions. Due to this Hamas-Israel War, Japan seems to be in a tough position as in recent times, the Liberal Democratic Party has worked on having an active role in global leadership. Moreover, Japan holds this year’s G7 Presidency and also a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council.
Through interactions with Palestine, representatives of the Japanese government have supported this strategy. For instance, on his 2013 Middle East trip as foreign minister, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida himself met with Palestinian counterparts, as did Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his 2018 tenure.
Current Scenario: When Hamas Militants attacked several Israeli Population Centres, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a public statement wherein he stated, ‘Citizens of Israel, we are at war’. The Israel Defence militants then initiated “Operation Swords of Iron,” a massive military campaign aimed at totally eliminating Hamas militants. The Japanese Foreign Ministry then issued a statement where they condemned Hamas’ actions and also expressed concern regarding casualties in the Gaza Strip. What was evident through Japanese statements was that it signalled a different approach to the war in comparison to other G7 members. France, Germany, the UK, the US and Italy issued a statement to express their support for Israel in defending itself against Hamas.
Kishida administration hopes for the conflict to end without placing undue pressure on Japan. The conduct of the two sides (Israel and Palestine) in relation to the international system based on laws, especially in regard to international humanitarian law would influence the future of this war. The fact that Hamas attacked civilian targets was blatantly against the law. However, Japan’s choice to distance itself from the war and demand restraint from both parties will be validated if the Israel Defense Forces likewise show a willingness to go beyond the bounds of the rules of armed combat. If, on the other hand, the two parties’ actions are clearly different, it will be more difficult for the Kishida government to tone down its reactions in order to project leadership in the world. Furthermore, Japan also needs to keep in mind its energy needs and its dependence on the Middle East region for oil and other natural resources. Japanese public reaction to the war also matters as public sentiments would influence the government’s decision-making.
Nevertheless, Japan’s Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko has defended Israel’s right to protect itself in the ongoing conflict against Palestinian militants. Kamikawa also reached out to her Iranian counterpart Hossein Abdollahian to talk to Hamas for easing tensions in the conflict with Israel. Both Kamikawa and Abdollahian further agreed to cooperate for improving humanitarian access to Gaza. Through international organisations, Japan pledged to give inhabitants in the Gaza Strip emergency humanitarian aid of $10 million. Japan, which imports a large amount of crude oil from the Middle East, needs stability in the Middle East region. Although Japan has long had cordial relations with Iran, Israel’s longtime enemy, it is nonetheless a close ally of the United States.
Furthermore, Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa visited Israel and Jordan recently and pledged to provide an additional $65 million humanitarian aid to Palestinians over the Conflict in Gaza.Since Japan holds the G7 Presidency, it should work with the international community collectively to de-escalate the situation.
Japan should work on leveraging its cordial relations with countries like UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel for further taking a role in reconstructing Gaza.The Kishida government will make every effort to avoid being involved in the controversy as much as it can. Given that Japan is currently the world’s third-largest economic power and that the economy continues to be a source of concern for the current administration, providing financial and humanitarian support to all impacted individuals is a sensible course of action. Japan is attempting to defuse the situation between Israel and Hamas and will be sending a peace envoy to the Middle East. To quickly bring the situation under control, the Japanese government will keep coordinating with the international community and interacting with pertinent parties. The conflict that resulted from Hamas’ attacks raises the question of what Japan can do with its unique policy position. The Kishida administration now has to determine whether to truly use this position to pursue constructive outcomes in the midst of a horrendous war. Japan’s G7 presidency has given an opportunity to Japan to show leadership and further position itself as a strategic player in this Middle-East Conflict.
The author is an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.