Continuing Tragedy in Gaza
Amb D P Srivastava, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

President Biden’s statement last week that there would be a Hamas-Israel deal by Monday, 4th March had raised hopes for a breakthrough in the talks being hosted in Cairo for hostage release and a pause in fighting. Israel had not sent its delegation. It wanted Hamas to disclose the number of old, women and children in Hamas’s custody, who are still alive. Israel said that in the event there is no agreement on hostage release, it will invade Rafah. Hamas said it needed time to come up with the list. Hamas wants a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. The Hamas delegation has returned dashing hopes for an agreement before Ramadan commences on 10th March. President Biden mentioned the Gaza crisis in his State of the Union address, but the US seems unable to influence the Netanyahu government, which is focussed on achieving a military solution without making any political concession. There is fear that if the fighting continues during the month of Ramadan, there will be an escalation in hostilities and war may spread to the wider region.

The war is already spreading. There have been clashes between Hezbollah and Israel. This has resulted in more than 80,000 Israelis becoming internal refugees within their country. These are Israelis who have fled from the border with Lebanon. The US has carried out strikes in Syria and Iraq. Israel has carried out strikes inside Syria as well as Lebanon. Houthis have disrupted international shipping passing through the Red Sea. However, the major players have exercised restraint. There have been no direct clashes between US and Iran. Iran and Saudi Arabia have re-established normal diplomatic relations. Improved relations between the two have kept a check on increase in the oil prices. The fear is that unless a way is found to lower the temperature, the conflict would suck in regional powers. The worst-case option will be a war between Israel and Iran in which the USA may get drawn.

According to Dennis Ross, a senior US commentator, Israel has three major objectives in its war against Hamas post 7th October: restore deterrence, destroy Hamas, and release of hostages. The first and the last objectives are conflicting. Restoring deterrence meant inflicting punitive damage on Hamas. The escalating war could endanger the lives of hostages. The continuing conflict has hardened public opinion on both sides making political accommodation more difficult.

The Hamas objective in launching the terror attack was to bring the Palestinian issue center stage and set back the process of normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states. It has substantially achieved the first objective. The normalization of relations with Israel has been put on the back-burner by Arab states that had signed the Abraham Accords. Though Hamas may have scored a tactical victory, this has come at an enormous cost to the people of Gaza. The war has resulted in the deaths of more than 30,000 Gazans till now.

So far 100 Israeli hostages have been released in exchange for about 300 Palestinian prisoners. The talks for the release of the remaining hostages have remained deadlocked. Hamas has been demanding a ceasefire as a precondition for hostage release, which Israel is unwilling to concede. Its offer of a humanitarian truce raises the specter of Hamas facing a renewed Israeli onslaught once it releases the hostages. Its strategy therefore is to prolong the process by releasing hostages in small batches. This also prolongs the suffering of the Gazan people. With the passage of time, Hamas’s military strength is getting depleted. It will also have less and less diplomatic leverage with the progressive release of hostages. Israel’s political capital and military prestige suffer as the crisis drags on. Neither side has a good option.

Biden Administration is coming under pressure from its Arab allies as well as Arab-American voters at home to bring about a ceasefire. The situation is complicated as this is an election year in the US. President Biden stressed the two-state solution during his visit to Israel in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 terror attack by Hamas on Israel.

UN Dynamics

The UN track remains blocked or ineffective. Given the impasse in the Security Council, the Arab states took the issue to the General Assembly, which has adopted two resolutions so far. The first UNGA Resolution captioned ‘Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations’ was adopted on 26th October 2023.[1] The resolution called for an ‘immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities. It also asked for humanitarian access. It called for a ‘Just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of a two-state solution’. However, it limited demand for the release of hostages to ‘all civilians’. This left out Israeli military personnel held hostage by Hamas. It expressed ‘grave concern at the latest escalation of violence since the 7th October 2023 attack’. This seemingly innocuous wording left out the causal relationship between the Hamas terror attack and the current chain of events, thus shifting the blame to the Israeli side. India abstained from voting on the resolution.

The second UNGA Resolution captioned ‘Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations’ was adopted on 10 December 2023.[2] It asked for ‘an immediate humanitarian ceasefire’. It also called for ‘the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access.’

The UN Security Council also adopted two resolutions - resolution 2712 (2023) of 15 November 15 and resolution and resolution 2720 (2023) of 22nd December 2023. [3] These were limited to calling for ‘hostage release’ and ‘humanitarian access’. Unlike the UNGA resolutions, these were silent on the question of humanitarian pause as well as Two State solution. The US has vetoed a number of resolutions which called for cease-fire.

ICJ

South Africa has filed a case against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip (South Africa v. Israel). [4] South Africa’s choice for invoking the Genocide Convention could stem from: (1) this convention allows any State to bring the case to the international Court as preventing genocide is the responsibility of all countries and (2) the convention allows the ICJ to establish jurisdiction without requiring the consent of the State concerned.

Under ICJ procedures, the State seeking its intervention could ask for ‘Provisional Measures’ as interim relief pending the final judgment of the Court. South Africa asked ICJ to declare that ‘The State of Israel shall immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza’ as part of ‘Provisional Measures’. This the Court did not accept. In its judgment on ‘Provisional Measures’, the Court accepted South Africa’s request for other steps without specifically terming Israeli action as Genocide. The other steps include the injunction that Israel should not to kill or cause bodily injury to Gazans.

The ICJ case is going on. South Africa has again asked for a ceasefire as part of provisional measures. The world court’s rulings cannot be enforced, but carry a political message.

Netanyahu’s plan for Day After

The US Secretary of State Blinken visited Middle East (ME). again last month. Israeli Cabinet approved a motion rejecting any ‘international diktats’ regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians, including the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. [5] This was a public rejoinder to attempts by the US and EU to move Israel towards a two-state solution.

This was followed by Netanyahu’s plan for the day after. The Israeli Prime Minister released the plan as Brett McGurk, the US M.E. envoy visited Israel and the region. The plan envisages indefinite Israeli control over Gaza and makes no mention of any role of the Palestinian Authority in the territory. It flies in the face of what the US and many of the Arab States have been advocating. They have been suggesting that there should be no Israeli reoccupation of any part of Gaza, no reduction of Gazan territory, and acceptance of a Two-State solution.

The ‘formal proposal’ ‘directly contradicts the objectives of the US.’ [6]
John Kiby, spokesperson for the US National Security Council in reaction to Netanyahu’s plan said: ‘We don’t believe in any reduction of the size of Gaza.’ [7]
A spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority told the Wafa news service that ‘Netanyahu’s proposed plans aim to perpetuate Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.’ He added ‘Gaza will only be part of the independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.’ [8]

Netanyahu government has also announced the building of more settlements in the West Bank. The move is calculated to kill the two-state solution. Without land, there would be no Palestinian state worth the name.

President Biden’s State of the Union Address

President Biden in his State of the Union address on 7th March said that the US has been working ‘to establish an immediate cease-fire that would last for at least six weeks.’[9] (Remarks by President Biden in State of the Union Address, March 7, 2024) He also referred to humanitarian assistance and said that the US military would establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the Gaza coast that can receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine, and temporary shelters.’ [10] He asked Israel to ensure that ‘humanitarian workers aren’t caught in the crossfire.’ He said ‘humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip.’ [11] He stated ‘As we look to the future, the only real solution is a two-state solution.’ [12]

The focus on humanitarian assistance only disguises the fact that there has been no progress on immediate issues or the long-term solution. The immediate issues are the release of hostages and a ceasefire; the long-term solution is two-state formula. As Ramadan commences on 10th March, the danger of a major incident erupting increases. Indeed, Hamas may be banking on it. It may give a call for rallies in the West Bank and on the Temple Mount. There could be protests across the Arab world. The prospect of a two-state solution, which is the ‘only real solution’ as President Biden said has become dimmer with Netanyahu’s plans for the day after. No Arab state or the Palestinian Authority will come forward to assume responsibility for Gaza unless there is a clear commitment to a two-state solution.

The positions of both sides have hardened. Netanyahu’s plan for the day after goes against the stated US and Arab positions that there should be no Israeli occupation of Gaza. A senior Hamas official Husam Badran warned that ‘unrest would escalate in the West Bank and Jerusalem without a deal.’ [13] He said that discussions on the release of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners have taken a back seat. He added that at least 60 hostages taken from Israel had died in captivity. He listed Hamas’s conditions, including ‘a permanent cease-fire, allowing displaced civilians to return to their homes in northern Gaza, allowing sufficient aid to flow through all crossings, a plan to rebuild Gaza, and a withdrawal of the Israeli military from the enclave.’ [14]

President Biden has warned Israel that an attack on Rafah would ‘cross a “red line”. He added ‘So there is no red line I am going to cut off all weapons, so they don’t have the Iron Dome to protect them.” “But there’s red line that if he crosses….You cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead.” [15] This formulation seems to suggest that some category of weapons may be withheld. So far Netanyahu has ignored all warnings from President Biden. The Middle East is edging closer to a very hot summer.

References

[1] www.un.press.un.org
[2] www.un.press.un.org
[3] www.un.press.un.org
[4] www.icj-cij.org
[5] FT, ‘Israeli cabinet rejects international calls for Palestinian state’, February 18 2024
[6]FT, ‘Israel unveils plan for complete postwar control of Gaza’, February 23, 2023
[7] FT, ‘Israel unveils plan for complete postwar control of Gaza’, February 23, 2023
[8] FT, ‘Israel unveils plan for complete postwar control of Gaza’, February 23, 2023
[9] www.whitehouse.gov. Remarks by President Biden in State of the Union Address, March 7, 2024
[10] www.whitehouse.gov. Remarks by President Biden in State of the Union Address, March 7, 2024
[11] www.whitehouse.gov. Remarks by President Biden in State of the Union Address, March 7, 2024
[12] www.whitehouse.gov. Remarks by President Biden in State of the Union Address, March 7, 2024
[13] Wall Street Journal, Hamas Leaders Stick to Hard Line on Gaza Talks.’ March 9, 2024
[14] Wall Street Journal, Hamas Leaders Stick to Hard Line on Gaza Talks.’ March 9, 2024
[15] The Wall Street Journal, Biden Warns Netanyahu an Assault on Rafah Would Cross ‘Red Line’ March 10, 2024

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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very interesting and educative

 

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