GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 891, 10 May 2024

The Ceasefire Conundrum in the Middle East: Hamas accepts a deal, Israel rejects
Shamini Velayutham

In the news
On 8 May, according to a senior administration official, US President Joe Biden's administration stopped sending weapons to Israel last week because of what appeared to be military actions by Israeli troops to invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah. US President Joe Biden stated: "I made it clear to the Israelis that if they go into Rafah…, I'm not supplying the weapons."  On 9 May, following Biden's above statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "If we have to stand alone, we will stand alone. If we need to, we will fight with our fingernails. But we have much more than fingernails."

On 6 May, Hamas said it had accepted a truce proposal that Qatar and Egypt brokered. For Netanyahu, however, the agreement did not satisfy Israel's objectives. On the same day, tens of thousands of Palestinians were told to evacuate Rafah by the Israeli army as tensions over a possible ground invasion of the southern Gaza city where 1.4 million displaced by Israel's bombardment on Gaza have taken refuge. According to an Israeli military spokesperson, around 100,000 residents of eastern Rafah were advised to evacuate to "an expanded humanitarian area" on the coast. The directive was issued just before Hamas approved a ceasefire agreement.

Issues at large
First, the ceasefire conundrum. The proposal accepted by Hamas includes a three-stage truce, each lasting 42 days. In the first phase, indirect negotiations through mediators would resume on the exchange of captives and prisoners. A withdrawal of some Israeli troops from certain areas would also take place along with the unhindered return of displaced families to their homes and the flow of aid and fuel into Gaza. In the second phase, there would be a complete and permanent halt to military activity in Gaza. The final phase would focus on beginning reconstruction in post-war Gaza, overseen by Egypt, Qatar, and United Nations agencies. However, Israel said that the terms of the Hamas ceasefire differed from previous proposals it had seen. 

Second, increased hostilities in Rafah. Following international mediators' acceptance of a ceasefire plan, Israeli forces took control of the Rafah border crossing. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported on 6 May that since Israeli tanks and troops advanced into the city's eastern neighbourhood, 80,000 residents have left Rafah.

Third, the rift between the US and Israel. In recent months, the Biden administration has publicly and privately criticized Israel for how it is handling its war against Hamas on multiple occasions. Netanyahu's dilemma stems from his pledge to the Israeli people of a victory over Hamas. Nonetheless, the US has made it clear that it will not back a full-scale invasion, even despite its unwavering backing for Israel during the Gaza War. 

In perspective
Hamas has been pressing for the end of the war to occur during the first 40 days of the agreement, not during the second or third phases, and has been harder in its demands in recent days. In contrast, Israel has consistently stated that it will not accept a hostage deal that ends the war in any way and will continue to fight to achieve its two main objectives in the conflict: the recovery of the hostages and the destruction of Hamas's ability to rule and assemble an armed force. 

The recent increase in the ground operation in Rafah jeopardizes hopes of securing a deal between Israel and Hamas. As Israel continues to hold strong opinions about the ceasefire, the ceasefire once again remains elusive.

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