Towards a truce in the war on Gaza

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 29 Feb 2024

Negotiations for a truce in the Israeli war on Gaza are being complicated by parallel talks about the day after the war.

Towards a truce in the war on Gaza

 

“The question is not the truce – at least the difficult question is not about the truce but about what comes after the truce for Gaza, the [Palestinian] Authority, and for Palestinians in general.”

This was how an informed Egyptian source qualified the negotiations for a truce in the war on Gaza.

Speaking of the talks taking place in Paris last weekend with high-level intelligence participation from France, the US, Egypt, Qatar and Israel, and of the Qatar talks that started on Monday in Doha, also of intelligence bodies, the source said that there has been “progress for sure.”

However, “we have seen progress before, and we saw a deal in the making several times since the truce [of November 2023] that expired in a week, but we never got there,” he said. “Today, I think we are close to saying that we are done, but again the deal is not done until it is done,” he added.

According to Egyptian and Cairo-based European sources and a Palestinian source, the key points where progress has been reached include a significant increase of the entry of humanitarian convoys into Gaza, allowing make-shift houses and hospitals to be put up in different “agreed-on spots” across the Strip, agreement on the number of Palestinian prisoners that will be released in return for non-military Israeli hostages, and measures to prevent “a massive humanitarian disaster in Rafah” when Israel launches the offensive that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not willing to forgo.

The same sources say that points still under discussion include the number, inspection terms, and passages of aid convoys that will get into Gaza, the number of makeshift houses and hospitals that Turkey has promised to provide and install in Gaza, the supplies and equipment to be allowed into the hospitals, the Israeli request for a list of all the Israeli hostages, military and non-military, and alive and dead, that Hamas is holding, the Israeli request for videos to show that those reported alive are in fact alive, and the details of the humanitarian evacuation from Rafah prior to any Israeli military offensive.

In parallel with the cautious tone of the Egyptian source, Hamas has also been adopting a conservative assessment about the chances for a deal. On Tuesday, Hamas said that the assessment made by US President Joe Biden on a truce to go into effect by next Monday (4 March) is not compatible with the path of the negotiations.

The Egyptian source said that the dates are not fixed yet, “but we are certainly talking about a truce before Ramadan that will last for the entire month and for the duration of the subsequent feast.”

Ramadan, the holy Muslim fasting month, starts on 11 March. The Eid Al-Fitr holiday ends on 14 April.

The source added that “we are talking about an on-going process of negotiations that will not stop when the truce goes into effect because what we are working on is to end the war and not just to have a truce.”

Egypt and Qatar, in cooperation with the US and to a lesser degree France, have been trying since the November truce expired to agree another that could turn into a ceasefire.

Egyptian and European sources informed about the path of the talks argued that the proposed Ramadan truce is only a phase in a sequenced process that might include another shorter truce before a ceasefire is reached.

This process, they said, would lead to a deal for the day after the war.

Speaking independently, they said that matters like the exit of Hamas militant leaders from Gaza, especially Yehya Sinwar, the length and management of the buffer zone that Israel wants in the north of Gaza, the Hamas political leaders that will be included in the management of Gaza after the war, and the security details of and the partners involved in the management of Gaza and its borders are all part of the deal.

These issues are set to be discussed both in Paris, where the Emir of Qatar was scheduled to arrive on 27 February for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.

They will also be discussed in Moscow during an inter-Palestinian conference scheduled for 29 February.

While the Paris talks are expected to focus on the security details of the upcoming truce and the eventual post-war deal, the Moscow talks are designed to create a Palestinian consensus that would allow for the creation of a Palestinian government of reconciliation after the resignation of the government led by Mohamed Shtayyeh.   

The same sources said that it would be unrealistic to assume that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will agree to anything related to a Palestinian state as part of the final deal, not even in return for normalisation with Saudi Arabia and the three other Arab countries that were scheduled to normalise their relations with Israel after US mediation before the beginning of the Israeli war on Gaza on 7 October.

“The issue of normalisation is crucial both for Netanyahu and for Biden,” said a Cairo-based European diplomat. He added that Netanyahu wants a deal with Saudi Arabia to consolidate his political survival in the face of growing unpopularity not just within the Israeli population and opposition but even within his own Security Cabinet.

Biden, the same diplomat said, wants to “deliver normalisation” to improve his chances in the presidential race ahead of the November US presidential elections.

“He wants to have a deal to cushion possible US political [not legal] recognition of a Palestinian state, at least in principle, or to allow for a generous aid package for the Palestinians in Gaza to help improve his chances in the elections that have really dropped in American cities with significant Muslim populations,” the source added.

He said that a deal on Gaza would grant the US a better chance for its thus far unsuccessful attempts to secure a Lebanese-Israeli détente, at a time when tensions on the border between South Lebanon and Israel have been increasing over the past few days.

“I think a truce is way overdue. The 4 March date that Biden is talking about is designed to come ahead of the four-month line of the war on 7 March,” the diplomat said.

Since the start of its war on Gaza, Israel had carpet-bombed the Strip from north to south and killed at least 30,000 Palestinians, and wounded over 70,000 more, mostly women and children. Many of the latter now have permanent injuries. It has caused a major humanitarian crisis considered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in late January to meet the criteria for genocide.

“This war has become a liability for Israel, for the US, and for the Europeans. There are many in Israel now, and inside the Cabinet of Netanyahu, pushing for a truce,” said the Egyptian source.

He added that Egypt is tentatively planning to hold a meeting on either 2 or 3 March to announce the truce. “But again, we will see,” he cautioned.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 29 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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