A Gaza truce is possible – don't let the extremes wreck it

Political pressure on Hamas and Israel's leadership to embrace this opportunity to end the violence must be unrelenting

An Israeli air strike hits Al Bureije refugee camp in southern Gaza on Monday. Attempts to gain support for a ceasefire plan at the UN are welcome but come too late for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have lost their lives. EPA
Powered by automated translation

The death and destruction being wrought in Gaza has become so immense in scale that those seeking to end the bloodshed are seizing on even the slimmest chance for peace. A phased ceasefire proposed by US President Joe Biden offers some hope, but is at risk of succumbing to the impasse that has characterised the war thus far. There are also questions as to why it has taken the US so long to propose an end to this devastating war. However, there is now at least an American proposal worth considering and supporting – and at this precarious moment, the world must not allow the worst elements in both Israel and Gaza to squander the opportunity.

Unfortunately, extremists on all sides seek to continue the fighting. Some leading Israeli figures are persisting with their intransigence; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeated his position that there will be no permanent ceasefire without the destruction of Hamas. It remains unclear what “destruction” even means, given ground realities. This is an unconventional, asymmetric war being fought amid a desperate civilian population – a formal statement of surrender from an opposing army will not be forthcoming. What is more likely is that Hamas, or something resembling it, will outlive the fighting if no durable peace is in place. The proliferation of independent,non-aligned armed factions inthe West Bank shows that without an end to Israeli occupation, many Palestinians will continue to feel they have no option but to pick up the gun.

Some of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition partners are seemingly opposed to a ceasefire on principle. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich have threatened to bring down the government if the Prime Minister pursues anything other than a full-scale war in Gaza, despite mounting international fury over its humanitarian toll. In truth, their opposition to the ceasefire plan is rooted in the fact that the third phase of Mr Biden’s proposal includes the reconstruction of Gaza. The Israeli ultra-right, including Mr Ben-Gvir and Mr Smotrich, has been clear in its desire to see the territory emptied of Palestinians and populated by Israeli settlers.

Similarly, Palestinians in Gaza have been left dependent on the will of Hamas to endorse a ceasefire plan that – even if it was successfully implemented – still leaves them in a much worse position than they were in on October 6. The group’s militancy and miscalculation have led Palestinians into the abyss; now they depend on Hamas to help get them out of it. Earlier this week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made it clear that it was the Palestinian people who were paying the heaviest price for Hamas’s rampage on October 7 that killed 1,200 people in southern Israel. The subsequent Israeli response, he said, "has shed their blood and … resulted in the death of more than 36,000 martyrs and wounded 83,000 others”. However, the Palestinian Authority itself has had its troubles in meeting the aspirations of the Palestinian people, with weak governance plaguing the West Bank.

Yet there is room for cautious optimism. Five Arab states – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan – support the deal. They have been instrumental in leading Arab efforts to end the war and pave a path forward. A joint statement from the leaders of the G7 group of nations on Monday also fully endorsed the plan, as well as a two-state solution. Mr Biden’s attempts to gain support for the proposal at the UN Security Council are also welcome, although they come too late for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have lost their lives during Israel’s unchecked violence in Gaza and the West Bank. They are also a departure for Mr Biden's administration, which has squandered vast amounts of political capital with its blanket support for Israel's actions, even those that have clearly been in violation of international law.

This is not the time for recriminations, however. Political pressure on Hamas and the Israeli leadership to embrace this opportunity to end the violence must be unrelenting. There are those in both camps who not only cling to obstinacy but lack vital strategic foresight. This is an opportunity too precious to let the extremes keep dictating the pace.

Published: June 05, 2024, 3:00 AM