Towards a humanitarian truce in Gaza

Nouran Awadain, Tuesday 30 Jan 2024

Talks are ongoing to secure the release of Israeli detainees in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody and to establish a lasting humanitarian truce in the war on Gaza.

Towards a humanitarian truce in Gaza

 

On 28 January, Paris witnessed a meeting between the head of Egyptian intelligence, Abbas Kamel, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, CIA Director William Burns, and head of the Israeli Intelligence Agency (Mossad) David Barnea.

The purpose of the meeting was to negotiate an agreement between Israel and Hamas for the release of hostages held in Gaza and the implementation of a new humanitarian truce in the Israeli war on Gaza. According to the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the talks, initiated by Egypt, Qatar, and the US, were deemed “constructive,” but significant gaps remain to be addressed in further meetings.

On 24 November last year, Egyptian-Qatari-US mediation successfully brokered a temporary ceasefire agreement. This humanitarian truce, lasting one week, facilitated the delivery of essential aid, including food and medical assistance, and the release of approximately 81 Israelis, some holding dual citizenship, in exchange for the liberation of 240 Palestinians, mainly women and minors, from Israeli prisons.

These Palestinians had faced no charges. Other foreign nationals were released outside the ceasefire framework.

The ongoing talks aim to secure the release of over 100 Israeli detainees held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody and strive to establish a lasting humanitarian truce.

Preceding the discussions were contacts between US President Joe Biden, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad addressing developments in Gaza in the hope of furthering the negotiations concerning the detainees.

They followed a visit by US Special Envoy for the Middle East Brett McGurk signalling a commitment to substantial discussions on releasing the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and achieving a humanitarian truce in the region.

Reports suggest that the ongoing discussions incorporate proposals from both Israel and Hamas. If sufficient progress is achieved, McGurk may return to the region to finalise an agreement.

This agreement, expected to be more comprehensive than the initial one last year, would contain two phases. The first would involve a 30-day cessation of hostilities and the release of women, the elderly, and the injured from among the Gaza detainees.

Simultaneously, both parties would outline the second phase of the agreement, suspending military operations for another 30 days in exchange for the release of Israeli soldiers and male civilians.

Negotiations would continue on the number of Palestinians to be released from Israeli prisons, viewed as a negotiable matter. The proposed agreement includes international guarantees, notably from the US, that are aimed at ensuring a comprehensive agreement for a permanent cessation of attacks on the region.

However, disparities between the parties exist concerning the ceasefire and the end of the war. Israeli officials reject the idea of a permanent ceasefire, advocating a temporary truce that would be extendable based on evolving circumstances instead, while maintaining forces on the ground until the final stage.

In contrast, Hamas demands a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the return of displaced residents to their homes.

There are various motivating factors behind the negotiations, including the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Gaza, with over 25,000 casualties being recorded so far due to the continuous Israeli bombardment and underscoring the urgency of a ceasefire. The collapse of essential services and health infrastructure in Gaza, coupled with the blockade restricting vital humanitarian aid, necessitates a truce to prevent further deterioration.

A second factor is the approaching US presidential elections in November. The war in Gaza has diminished support among US youth and crucial Arab-American demographics for Biden in his re-election campaign. It has also exposed internal divisions within the Democratic Party, as its left wing opposes US support for Israel in the war.

A third factor is that regional escalation linked to the war is drawing the US into the conflict, despite attempts to avoid it. Recent attacks on a US military base near the Jordanian-Syrian border by the Islamic Resistance Movement in Iraq highlight the potential expansion of the conflict. Washington, also facing disruptions in international trade from Yemeni Houthi group attacks in the Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandab Strait, is inclined towards a humanitarian ceasefire to stabilise the turbulent region.

Finally, as a result of the humanitarian crisis in the region, it has become increasingly challenging for the Israeli prime minister to ignore calls for a ceasefire and the imposition of a humanitarian truce. Internal pressures are also mounting in Israel from the families of the detainees held by Hamas, who are demanding swift measures to secure their release.

In order to manage this internal discontent, the Israeli government may find it needs to make progress on a humanitarian truce agreement and prisoner exchange.

The implementation of a humanitarian truce in Gaza is linked to the extent of international pressure exerted on the Israeli government. However, the country’s prime minister is well aware that ending the war in Gaza could signify a potential end to his political career. Therefore, Israel might lean towards a temporary humanitarian truce instead of a comprehensive ceasefire marking the conclusion of the conflict

*The writer is a researcher at the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS).

* A version of this article appears in print in the 1 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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