Editorial: Blood diplomacy

Tuesday 23 Jan 2024


Two months after the first ceasefire in Gaza, with the death toll among innocent Palestinians exceeding 25,000, the clock seems to be ticking for a second ceasefire. It is a matter of absurdity and an insult to all humanity to let this bloodbath continue with no serious effort to intervene to stop it.

This week the White House Middle East Adviser Brett McGurk started a second tour of the region, including Egypt and Qatar. Earlier this month he visited Israel and Qatar. His second tour took place following the first direct conversation between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in nearly a month. McGurk is expected to be building on proposals discussed by the two leaders during their lengthy conversation.

It is likely that Biden and Netanyahu interpreted the conversation differently, with each in effect speaking to himself, but the resumption of shuttle diplomacy by senior US officials implies that proposals are being discussed in relation to bringing the war to an end sooner rather than later.

While implementing a ceasefire as part of a second deal to free more Israeli hostages held in Gaza by Hamas seems to be the headline of the visit, US officials said McGurk will also be discussing long-term plans for a permanent settlement and the threat of a wider regional war due to Israel’s ongoing genocide.

Palestinians, supported by Egypt along with key Arab countries, are not going to be satisfied with a repetition of the one-week truce reached in late November, which allowed an exchange of prisoners between Hamas and Israel, after which the Israeli revenge war resumed with the same ferocity and lack of consideration for civilian lives.

UN Women reported this week that at least two Palestinian mothers die every hour in Gaza, while many unborn children die because of lack of medical care and miscarriages caused by bombardment and displacement. Other media reports confirmed that Israel has been systematically desecrating Palestinian graveyards in Gaza, allegedly looking for dead Israeli hostages who were moved to the Strip by Hamas after its humiliating attack on 7 October. Many bodies were moved to Israel to carry out tests after bulldozing at least 16 graveyards, leaving many dead bodies exposed, and showing no respect for the dignity of the dead.

More and more details are also emerging on gross violations of human rights and the torture of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel’s occupation troops in Gaza. While Israel has been repeatedly complaining of how Hamas uses Palestinians in the densely populated Gaza as human shields, some of the Palestinian prisoners released recalled how they were not only forced to strip naked and kept in the cold for days, but also tied with ropes and dropped through shafts leading to tunnels to make sure they were not booby-trapped in preparation for a military advance.

In meetings with US and European envoys, senior Egyptian officials have insisted that a ceasefire in Gaza must be a prelude to negotiating a final, permanent settlement leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Only achieving this target and addressing the root of the conflict – Israel’s racist occupation of Palestinian territories – can ensure that such wars would not be a recurrent event.

The key obstacle to launching the lengthy, difficult process towards a permanent settlement remains the current extremist, right-wing government in Israel, which even Israel’s strongest supporters, led by the United States, find it difficult to deal with. Israel’s prime minister and his extremist coalition partners made up of racist ministers who have a record in supporting Israeli settler violence against Palestinians and call for their deportation to Egypt and Jordan, continue to insist that wiping out Gaza is the only way to ensure Israel’s fragile security. Netanyahu proudly reiterates that he was the only leader able to stand up to “American friends” and reject their demand for a two-state solution, claiming a Palestinian state posed a serious threat to Israel’s security.

This, despite warnings from Israel itself, including top ministers in the Israeli war cabinet, that Netanyahu’s declared goals for the war, destroying Hamas and freeing hostages, simply cannot be achieved. Israel’s former chief of staff and war cabinet member, Gadi Eisenkot, said the Israeli government was not telling the public the truth about what is happening in Gaza, and admitted that it was impossible to free the hostages while the fighting continues. Moreover, he noted that the lack of a plan for the day after the war makes it difficult to conduct military operations in Gaza.

Nevertheless, Israeli officials have not stopped voicing proposals that reflect racist delusions. On Monday, Israel’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, screened a video in which he suggested creating an artificial island off Gaza’s shores, implying that this was the best solution to end the war in Gaza. Earlier, Israel’s finance minister promoted so-called “voluntary immigration,” stating that life would be better in Israel if there were only 100,000-200,000 people living in Gaza instead of the current 2.3 million.

Such positions by the Israeli premier and his ministers confirm that we remain far from the first steps towards a permanent settlement in Gaza, and they will reflect clearly on current US efforts to tame its closest ally in the region. After all, without strong US support, weapons supplies and diplomatic protection at the UN Security Council, there was no way such crimes could be committed unceasingly for so long.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 January, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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