Israel must accommodate militants' demands if Gaza ceasefire is to hold, say analysts

Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad has vowed to break truce if two members are not freed from Israeli custody

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The truce between Israel and Gaza Strip militants could hold for a few months, but a longer-lasting peace deal remains unlikely, analysts told The National.

After three days of violence that claimed the lives of 44 Palestinians inside the enclave, according to the Palestinian health ministry, Egypt brokered a ceasefire between Israel and militants in Gaza that came into effect on Sunday night.

The three-day conflict began when Israel launched targeted attacks on members of the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad inside Gaza. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said its operation, codenamed Breaking Dawn, was responding to threats from the militant group after the arrest of one of its senior members in the occupied West Bank last week.

Former Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy said the truce's fate will depend on factors including Israel’s ability to appease the PIJ in the coming days.

He said it is in Israel's best interests to end the violence, as it prepares for its latest legislative election in November.

“What I anticipate is for a short-term peace to be upheld between both sides which can even extend into the medium-term provided both sides get a decent takeaway from the negotiations,” Mr Fahmy said. “However, the ideological differences between both sides run far too deep for any long-lasting peace agreement to be reached.”

He said that because Israel, through its undeniable military supremacy over the Palestinian side, was able to claim the three-day conflict as a victory for its defence forces, the PIJ’s legitimacy as an effective resistance group took a hit. This could make it more aggressive towards Israel in the coming weeks if its demands are not met.

Residents in Gaza Strip welcome ceasefire between Israel and militants

Residents in Gaza Strip welcome ceasefire between Israel and militants

There was a marked difference between the tones of both sides’ public statements following the announcement of the truce. Where Israel was diplomatic and lauded Egypt’s efforts to broker the ceasefire, the PIJ was aggressive and promised to escalate the conflict further if Israel did not release Bassam Al Saadi and Khalil Awawda, two key PIJ figures in Israeli custody.

PIJ secretary general Ziad Nakhaleh issued a statement claiming that Israel had agreed to release the two prisoners but was now defaulting on its promise.

Mr Fahmy added that the imbalance in casualties in the latest round of violence, with 44 Palestinians dead compared to no Israeli casualties, had undoubtedly made the PIJ take a more hardline approach.

“The PIJ needs to get a takeaway from whatever agreement comes out because their legitimacy is going to be lessened if they don’t,” he said.

“If Israel wants a peace that extends beyond a simple military victory, they are going to have to provide some accommodation to the PIJ and they will therefore have to balance between appearing strong but also a little lenient when it needs to be.”

On Monday, an Israeli official told Times of Israel that the country’s security apparatus had not agreed to release either prisoner. But the official said Israel was “absolutely aware that there is an opportunity in the aftermath that we don’t want to miss” and that there was desire on Israel’s side to also bring Hamas into its negotiations with the PIJ. Hamas is holding two Israelis captive as well as the bodies of two others.

Operation Breaking Dawn has been widely denounced by rights groups all over the world. Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Monday saying that Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip often goes unpunished and, in the absence of accountability, the violence is likely to continue.

“Every time Gaza is pounded by Israeli fire, focus is brought to bear on bringing about a ceasefire, and then the focus on bringing about a more sustainable solution ends," said senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace H A Hellyer.

"Gaza is under occupation and under siege, according to the United Nations and most governments, with these periodic bombardments only increasing the difficulties that Palestinians in Gaza live under. However, as long as such operations prove to be popular in Israeli politics, and there is little accountability for them, the cycle of violence is likely to continue.”

Iran’s nuclear deal with the US could also play a role in the negotiations between Israel and Gaza. Mr Fahmy said that because Iran backs the PIJ through funding and armament, if its talks with the US fall through, it could encourage a more aggressive attitude towards Israel among the various militant groups it funds.

Updated: August 11, 2022, 6:57 AM