(Bloomberg) -- The Group of 20 nations is so split on the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine that they may be forced to reduce the forum’s scope and avoid geopolitical issues altogether this year, according to people familiar with the matter.

Removing all sensitive political topics from G-20 statements would diminish the relevance of the format, said one of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But that would give the group the chance on reaching consensus on other issues. 

G-20 foreign ministers will meet in Rio de Janeiro starting Wednesday, when the group is expected to discuss the conflict in the Middle East. Complicating the upcoming gathering is the fact that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva over the weekend compared Israel’s war on Hamas with Adolf Hitler’s extermination of Jews during the Holocaust.

Lula is setting the tone for developing nations since Brazil holds the rotating presidency of the G-20. Several Latin American countries have pulled their ambassadors from Israel, while South Africa has filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of genocide. 

The Group of Seven represents the US and its main allies while the G-20 brings together countries from across the spectrum, including China, and so it becomes a focus for global disputes. Israel is not a member of the G-20.

In the run-up to the meeting of foreign ministers — as well as a gathering of the finance ministers next week — officials representing developing nations including South Africa and Brazil have said they want their position that Israel is committing genocide reflected in any joint G-20 statement, according to the people. 

That wording has been rejected by several other G-20 nations including the US and Germany, the people said.

Brazil has explored strategies to keep the wars from overshadowing the rest of the agenda. These include potentially issuing a single statement at the end of Brazil’s presidency in November, rather than after each ministerial meeting, according to the people. 

Some members representing the developing nations have argued that the G-20 should drop any references to geopolitical conflicts, including Russia’s war against Ukraine, since an agreement on those issues is seen as impossible, said the people. The upshot could be that any future G-20 statement will be shorter and less political. 

Mauricio Carvalho Lyrio, the secretary for economic and financial affairs at Brazil’s foreign affairs ministry, told reporters on Tuesday that ministers participating in Rio’s meetings would issue a report rather than a statement. 

“A declaration can’t be an end in itself,” he said. “There is an obsession to make statements, but sometimes they prevent progress in the discussions.”

Economic Focus

It also means that the G-20 format would re-focus on its initial aim of fostering economic cooperation and strengthening fiscal resilience to prevent a repeat of a global financial crisis, according to the people.

Still, Carvalho Lyrio insisted that geopolitics and crises would still be the main topic of discussion of Rio’s closed-meetings. Ministers will also focus on global governance reform, he said, which includes revamping institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and United Nations Security Council and is a key area of concern for host Brazil.

During a meeting in Morocco in October only a few days after Hamas launched its deadly attack on Israel, G-20 finance chiefs agreed on a communique that didn’t mention the conflict, underlining the forum’s struggle to address conflicts seen as threats to the global economy.

This followed a G-20 summit in India in September where leaders — after days of wrangling — managed to agree on compromise language on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that won praise from the US and its allies but drew criticism from Kyiv.

Israel insists Hamas needs to be destroyed following the group’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israeli communities, which killed 1,200 people. More than 29,000 have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its retaliatory offensive, according to health officials in the Hamas-run territory.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the US, European Union and others.

--With assistance from Arne Delfs, Ramsey Al-Rikabi, Sylvia Westall and Andrew Rosati.

(Updates with Brazilian official comments from paragraph 9)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.