How Austria’s Foreign Minister Navigated the Middle East Crisis

In the shadow of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, which reached a new level of escalation following the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7, 2024, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg embarked on a significant diplomatic mission. His trip, which lasted three days, took him through Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and finally Lebanon – all hotspots in a region marked by political tensions and humanitarian crises. His main objectives were to call for a humanitarian ceasefire to bring much-needed aid to Gaza and to secure the release of over 130 hostages, including an Austrian-Israeli family man; to plead for a medium-term plan that places Gaza under civilian Palestinian administration and allows the population to live in security and dignity; and to emphasize the need for a long-term two-state solution and the normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

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The Humanitarian Situation in Gaza

According to the United Nations, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire and requires urgent attention. Some of the key challenges are:

  • More than 2 million people are living under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2007, which restricts the movement of goods and people and limits access to basic services and opportunities.
  • More than 70% of the population is dependent on humanitarian assistance, including food, water, health, education, and protection.
  • More than 50% of the population is unemployed, and more than 60% of the youth are out of work.
  • More than 40% of the population is food insecure, and more than 90% of the water is unfit for human consumption.
  • More than 100,000 people are still displaced from their homes due to the 2014 war, and more than 23,000 homes are still in need of reconstruction or repair.
  • More than 300,000 children are in need of psychosocial support due to the exposure to violence and trauma.
Indicator Gaza West Bank Israel
Population (million) 2.0 3.1 9.3
GDP per capita (USD) 876 3,319 43,592
Human Development Index 0.69 0.76 0.94
Poverty rate (%) 53 14 18
Life expectancy (years) 74 76 83

Source: World Bank, UNDP, CIA World Factbook

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According to the Austrian Foreign Ministry, Schallenberg’s visit to the Middle East was “the most extensive and intensive trip of an Austrian Foreign Minister to the region in decades” . He met with high-ranking officials, civil society representatives, and humanitarian workers in all four countries he visited. He also visited several symbolic and historic sites, such as the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, and the port of Beirut.

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