Gaza needs a plan for peace, not far-fetched demands

Benjamin Netanyahu's three prerequisites to end Israel's operation stand in stark contrast to many more realistic ways to end the conflict

An Israeli soldier takes position in Gaza. Despite pressure from the US to reduce civilian casualties and scale down operations, Israel's leadership appears more committed than ever to its current course. Reuters
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It is often said that no plan survives contact with the enemy, but as Israel’s military operation in Gaza wreaks more havoc and the civilian death toll continues to rise, it seems that some of the positions being put forward – ostensibly to end the conflict – can barely survive contact with reality.

This was the case with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s high-profile “three prerequisites” published in a US newspaper this week. “Hamas must be destroyed,” Mr Netanyahu wrote in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Gaza must be demilitarised and Palestinian society must be deradicalised.” On the same day the article appeared, Mr Netanyahu posed for photos with Israeli troops in northern Gaza and, as Palestinians mourned more than 100 casualties from recent air strikes, pledged to press on with military operations in Gaza.

Mr Netanyahu’s positions provide a worrying insight into the thinking that appears to be guiding Israel’s military response to the brutal Hamas attacks carried out on October 7. In fact, despite pressure from the US to reduce civilian casualties and scale down operations, Mr Netanyahu appears more committed than ever to Israel’s current course, telling troops: “We are not stopping. The war will continue until the end, until we finish it, no less.”

In an interview with an Egyptian television channel on Tuesday evening, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas put forward his own three-point rejoinder to Mr Netanyahu: a comprehensive end to the fighting; access for international aid into Gaza; and no further displacement of Palestinians outside their homeland. It is perhaps an indication of the paucity of creative thinking among Israel’s current leadership that Mr Abbas’s proposals are more realistic and are much more in line with most international thinking.

“Destroying Hamas” is an untenable short-term goal – one that is not only costing the lives of thousands of non-combatants but is sowing the seeds of future conflict. And demilitarisation cannot be approached in isolation – it must also encompass the Israeli military’s chronic and suffocating control of Gazans’ lives. Security for Palestinians and Israelis alike must be achieved.

Instead, an immediate humanitarian truce – as included in Mr Abbas’ position – is a step forward that could be augmented by a final, comprehensive hostage and detainee swap, ending the suffering of civilian hostages – a key demand from Israeli society – and removing the need for further Israeli military operations. This pause could provide the space for a longer-term truce and the beginning of a transitional phase out of this fruitless conflict.

Predicting what may follow is a risky business, but several proposals seem realistic: a ceasefire allowing unhindered aid into Gaza to meet people’s immediate needs could be accompanied by international input to fund and oversee stabilisation efforts. This would include restoring Gaza’s critical infrastructure, while establishing security arrangements along the border with Israel to prevent further outbreaks of fighting. Securing more international political, diplomatic and financial support for a Palestinian Authority-backed custodianship of Gaza is another proposal that offers the prospect of stability.

Meanwhile, outside of Gaza, an immediate freeze on new settlements in the occupied West Bank, the withdrawal of Israeli soldiers from flashpoint locations and a security agreement to protect Palestinians and Israelis, could encourage the return of badly needed law and order.

The above suggestions contain elements that could encourage Hamas and Israel’s leadership to change course from the current trajectory, which only prolongs the danger being faced by Israeli hostages and had led to the unconscionable killing of thousands of Palestinian civilians. The appointment of a UN co-ordinator to oversee humanitarian relief shipments into Gaza – veteran Dutch politician and diplomat Sigrid Kaag – will hopefully inject much-needed positive momentum and new ideas. Now, more than ever, is the time for plans that are rooted in the real world.

Published: December 28, 2023, 3:00 AM