Halt the genocide

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 9 Jan 2024

As calls to end the war in Gaza grow louder Israel is pushing for more days to kill.

War on Gaza


President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was set to meet visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Cairo on Thursday. The meeting marks the conclusion of a regional tour by Blinken that has been dominated by discussions of ways to end the war in Gaza.

“Everyone is telling the Israelis that this situation has to end and there are some in the government of Israel who see it as beneficial for Israel to end the war sooner rather than later,” said a Cairo-based European diplomat.

According to this and other diplomatic sources, the US will not put serious pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt military action before a credible scheme for the day after is in place. The current focus of the US, say diplomats, is to formulate a plan that accommodates the bulk of Israel’s security and governance demands so that Washington can start a serious push to end the war.

According to Egyptian sources, it is possible to work with some, but not all, of the “list of demands” that Israel has put on the table as a precondition for moving to lower intensity operations as a prelude to ending the conflict.

Israeli demands that Egyptian sources say could be accommodated include measures to ensure Hamas does not rebuild its combat capacity and “some security measures on the borders between Gaza and Egypt and Gaza and Israel”.

The same sources say, however, that other items on Israel’s preconditions list remain unacceptable to Egypt, the Palestinian Authority (PA), and even Jordan.

While Cairo is willing to work on a security coordination mechanism with Israel to prevent the smuggling of arms or money across the border via tunnels — it is, as one source explained, something Egypt has been working on for years — “there is a limit to the accommodations that can be made.”

“Egypt wants to end the war in Gaza sooner rather than later and will work to secure this, but there are sovereignty lines that cannot be trespassed,” he said.

Cairo-based diplomatic sources also say it will be impossible for the PA to agree to any governance arrangements in Gaza that totally marginalise its role despite the fact that the PA has been absent from Gaza since losing to Hamas in the conflict that followed the latter’s legislative victory in the Strip more than 15 years ago. Subsequent reconciliation and national unity government initiatives have all failed.

“It is hard today to see any chance for reconciliation between Hamas and the PA,” said an Egyptian source close to Egypt’s reconciliation attempts, not least because “Hamas believes that the PA has let Gaza down during the ongoing Israeli war.”

“Hamas leaders have been very critical of [PA leader Mahmoud] Abbas during their recent meetings in Cairo,” the source said. He added that for Hamas, accepting a power-sharing arrangement with the PA would be tantamount to an acknowledgment of failure.

By insisting that Hamas cannot be excluded from any discussions over the future of Gaza after the war, the source argued that Cairo has the option to work with Hamas on future scenarios for Gaza, including possible “legislative and presidential elections, though they cannot be held anytime soon.”

He added that a formula based on a clear PA role in Gaza and the participation of Hamas, essentially through some PA or Palestine Liberation Organisation format, had been the subject of Palestinian-Egyptian consultations.

On Monday, Palestinian President Abbas was in Cairo for talks with President Al-Sisi on the possibility of containment leading to a cessation of Israeli hostilities.

Blinken’s regional tour coincided with that of EU Foreign Policy High Commissioner Josep Borell. Both senior diplomats are working hard to push for a beginning to an end to the war.

“Without this beginning there can be no guarantees that the war will not spillover, especially on the Lebanon front,” said the Cairo-based European diplomat.

In the last week Israel killed a senior Hamas and senior Hizbullah political leader in Lebanon. The European diplomat said that everyone is trying to push for self-restraint on the side of Hizbullah.

“Lebanon is in deep trouble already and Netanyahu wants to keep on fighting to save his political career. We cannot predict what Hizbullah will do and we want to make sure that [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah does not find himself in a position where he is forced to join the fight — something he has already shown he is loath to do,” said the source.

“Spillover is already there in the Red Sea” with Houthi attacks on ships heading to or owned by Israel “and Iran is the obvious connection between the Houthis and Hizbullah. If Iran is encouraging the Houthis to act then it might well do the same with Hizbullah.”

The diplomatic battle to contain the war is unfolding against the backdrop of a legal track started when South Africa petitioned the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to investigate possible war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza. The South African request was tabled mid-November and the legal process was due to start on Thursday 11 January.

“We made the referral because we believe that war crimes are being committed there,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. There is “a need for the whole world to rise and call on the Israeli government to cease fire, to stop what is happening, and we want the ICJ to investigate, and of course, legal measures then need to be taken at a global level.”

A UN source who works on the Palestinian situation speaking on condition of anonymity said that the ICJ process will be long and might not necessarily be effective, especially in the short term. The source added that it is hard to see that Netanyahu will slow his “killing scheme” because of concerns over the ICJ.

“What is required now is a political scheme to bring this war to an end and to help Palestinians live and get proper medical treatment and nutrition. Then we can think about the management of the Gaza Strip, the role of Hamas, the prosecution of Israeli leaders and so on,” said the source

* A version of this article appears in print in the 11 January, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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