Middle Eastern quicksand

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 25 Jun 2024

Israel’s war on Gaza serves as a smokescreen for the slow annexation of the West Bank, writes Hussein Haridy  


On Friday 31 May, President Joe Biden made important statements concerning the ongoing war in Gaza. He said that the war must end, and outlined a three-phase roadmap to reach a permanent ceasefire through negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians through the mediation efforts of the United States, Egypt, and Qatar. The American president made it clear that this roadmap is Israel’s initiative which Hamas should accept.

According to the roadmap, phase one would aim at an immediate, full, and complete ceasefire, with the release of hostages: women, the elderly and the wounded. It would also include the return of the remains of some hostages, an exchange of Palestinian prisoners, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the populated areas in Gaza, the return of Palestinians to their homes in all areas of Gaza and a “safe and effective” distribution of humanitarian assistance throughout the Gaza Strip. Phase two would aim at a permanent end of hostilities through negotiations. As for phase three, it would deal with a reconstruction plan for Gaza.

The White House’s initiative was very detailed about phase one, which would last for six weeks in which time the warring parties would negotiate a permanent ceasefire and the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. The roadmap was supported by the international community including Hamas itself, as well as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Egypt called on Israel and Hamas to accept the roadmap and to begin implementing it. Within ten days, the US submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council calling for the adoption of the roadmap.

On 10 June, the Security Council passed the American draft resolution with 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia). Security Council Resolution 2735 adopted Biden’s proposals in their entirety. However, it stressed its unwavering support for the two-state solution, whereby two democratic states, Israel, and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognised borders and the need to unify the Gaza Strip with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.

The aforementioned resolution is the fourth that has been passed by the Security Council on the war in Gaza since 7 October, 2023, either calling for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting or for a ceasefire, whether temporary or permanent. Although the latest Resolution 2735 has welcomed the readiness of the United States, Egypt, and Qatar to work to ensure negotiations keep going until all the agreements are reached and phase two can begin, that is a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza with the release of hostages and the remains of those who passed away in captivity. Since 10 June Egypt and Qatar have been trying to bridge the gaps between an Israeli position that refuses to talk about a permanent ceasefire or to commit to a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and Hamas demanding guarantees that the two conditions of ceasefire and withdrawal from Gaza are met. A Qatari official source recently said that there was some progress in this respect but gaps still remain.

Against all the international efforts to end the war in Gaza and prevent a major military confrontation between Israel and Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon, the Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told a private meeting of settlers’ representatives on 9 June that the Israeli government is engaged in stealthy efforts to irreversibly change the way the West Bank is governed, as reported in the New York Times on Saturday. The Israeli minister explained that the objective was to prevent the West Bank from becoming part of a Palestinian state.

At the time of writing, there have been no indications that an agreement on the implementation of Resolution 2735 is within reach. This is not surprising considering a statement by the Israeli National Security Adviser last May that the war in Gaza could last for seven more months.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling coalition, the most extreme since 1948, have no interest in stopping a war that serves their domestic political interests, or a strategy to end it. The war on Gaza serves as a smokescreen for the slow and creeping annexation of the West Bank and helps to keep them in power.

In this context, the Israeli government has stated that the army in Gaza will begin winding down the third phase of the war and resort to targeted raids aimed at “destroying Hamas.” I believe we should analyse this shift in military tactics taking into account that the Israeli army could launch a major military operation against Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon soon. Israel can’t fight on two fronts simultaneously particularly when the home front is so polarised  and divided.


The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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