Genocide continues in Gaza

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 24 Mar 2024

Israel is killing more innocent Palestinians as the truce in its war on Gaza fails to materialise.

Genocide continues in Gaza

 

After almost six months of war and over 30,000 Palestinians killed and triple that number wounded, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu this week shrugged off the advice of US President Joe Biden to refrain from a ground offensive on Rafah.

During a phone call on Monday, Biden told Netanyahu that “a Rafah operation would be a mistake and would lead to the death of more innocent civilians.” Netanyahu said he was determined to achieve all Israel’s military goals.

Netanyahu has also been shrugging off increasing pronouncements of international dismay — with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres implicitly blaming Israel for the famine in Gaza by saying that it is “an entirely manmade disaster” and Josep Borrell, the EU Foreign Policy Chief, saying that Gaza has become “the world’s biggest open-air graveyard”.

“There is no way that Netanyahu will not enter Rafah. He will. We are just working very hard to secure two things: first that this does not happen before the completion of a comprehensive evacuation plan for civilians; and second that this does not happen during Ramadan,” said an Egyptian source.

He added that “the US is already supporting these two points in an unprecedented way.”

It is an open secret that the US has been increasing the pressure on Israel to move towards a truce in the war that started on 7 October with Israel carpet-bombing Gaza, including humanitarian facilities, in retaliation for a Hamas resistance operation.

Having vetoed successive UN Security Council Resolutions that were tabled after the first weeks of the war, this week Washington, frustrated with Netanyahu’s intransigence, decided to move forward with its own Resolution that would increase the pressure on Netanyahu.

“I think the Americans are trying to pressure Netanyahu specifically. The impression in Washington is that it is specifically Netanyahu who is stalling the truce despite the support for the deal that is already there in the Israeli cabinet,” said a Washington-based Arab diplomat.

He added that while the US Resolution that was tabled on 15 March includes a call for an eventual ceasefire, it does not include specific enough demands that Israel stop its bombardment of Gaza.

According to a New York diplomatic source, it is also incompatible with basic Arab positions.

“It does not explicitly call for a ceasefire; it qualifies Hamas as a terror organisation; it proposes Security Council sanctions on Hamas for alleged terror crimes; it adopts uncertified claims over sexual assaults against Israeli hostages taken in Hamas captivity since 7 October; and it aims to marginalise [Palestinian refugees agency] UNRWA in favour of a bigger role for the humanitarian mechanism established by UN Security Council Resolution 2720,” he explained.

He added that Algeria, the Arab temporary member of the Security Member, will vote against the Resolution once the US tables it “on a date that has still not been specified.”

The US has accommodated some amendments to the first draft with regards to the language of the path to a ceasefire but has declined to amend the language on what it qualifies as the basic security interests of Israel.

Meanwhile, the Arab Group at the UN in New York, the source added, is working with other non-permanent members of the Security Council and France on two possible Draft Resolutions.

According to Cairo-based foreign diplomats, these call for a ceasefire, a prompt humanitarian operation in Gaza to deal with the expanding famine, and adequate security measures to bring an end to the war, including the release of Israeli hostages.

“I think it is hard for anyone to contest the need for an immediate truce at least, and a prompt and effective humanitarian operation to save the innocent people of Gaza who have been dying over the past months,” said one of the diplomats.

The Security Council track is only of several others in diplomatic and security talks currently being conducted to reach a truce and move forward with an evacuation plan for Gaza.

The other track is administered by Biden, CIA Chief William Burns, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Blinken is expected to arrive in the region today to follow up on the talks that Burns conducted last week as part of a US push for a truce.

“The Americans are sending Blinken while their Draft Resolution is tabled at the Security Council. The idea is that they want to get some flexibility from Netanyahu, who has been personally blocking all attempts to reach a truce before Ramadan and is still blocking chances for a truce,” said the Egyptian source.

He was sceptical of Netanyahu succumbing “enough to the US pressure.”

According to the Cairo-based foreign diplomats, during his talks with Israeli officials Burns said that the US might have to add a degree of conditionality on the Israeli use of US weapons in its war on Gaza. Last month, the US asked Israel to refrain from using US weapons in attacks that could be labelled as crimes against humanity in Gaza.

The Blinken visit to the region is the sixth since the beginning of the war. It comes in parallel to the visit of a high-level Israeli delegation to Washington to discuss the details of the Rafah operation.

Meanwhile, the same sources said that the US has put heavy pressure on Qatar to use its influence on the leaders of the political wing of Hamas in Doha to show flexibility, specifically with regards to their demand for a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a condition for a comprehensive ceasefire that would include the release of all the Israeli hostages.

“Hamas has bowed to the Qatari pressure and has shown flexibility, but Israel hasn’t,” commented the Egyptian source. He said that the test of the efficacy of the US pressure on Netanyahu will be during the talks that Doha is hosting this week with Israeli Mossad Chief David Barnea.

According to the same source, this track of the talks, hosted in rotation by Cairo and Doha, has been busy with the discussion of specific details related to three points: the plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah; the specific terms of the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza, “not just from Rafah through [the Egyptian] border but also from the Israeli borders;” the details of the distribution of aid; and the details of the management of the security situation on the ground in Gaza during the truce.

He added that a parallel track involves the inter-Palestinian talks that Cairo is managing. Currently, he said, there is a high level of tension, not just between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), but also within the PA-dominated Fatah Movement.

“It is hard to see how things will move forward for Gaza once the war comes to an end with this level of inter-Palestinian factionalism, especially since the talks about the truce are not separable from the talks about the day after the war,” he said.

This week, a surprising statement carrying the name of Fatah, the oldest Palestinian faction, openly attacked Hamas for the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza.

The statement prompted denunciations across Palestinian public opinion and within the Fatah Movement itself. The language of the statement was enough for some to label it “a statement of treason.”

Egyptian and foreign diplomatic sources agree that the battle for succession is intensifying within the circle of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and they blame the language and the timing of the statement on the figures around him.

“Fixing the inter-Palestinian situation is essential now, but it will also be very difficult,” the Egyptian source said.

Work on these parallel tracks could provide a few days of truce and a possible agreement between Israel and the Americans on the guidelines of the Rafah offensive, the Egyptian source said.

However, “today more than at any other time during the war, it is very clear that Netanyahu will not stop before he invades Rafah,” he added.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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