15.04.2024 Author: Viktor Mikhin

As Ramadan ends, what is next for Gaza’s Palestinians?

As Ramadan ends, what is next for Gaza’s Palestinians?

The unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe faced by the civilian Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip may be about to shape new political realities, but it is unlikely to keep Rafah, on the border with Egypt, safe from an Israeli offensive. There will be a new massacre and new victims, primarily the elderly, women and children. And the rest of the world, because of the West’s policies, will stand idly by, unable to take decisive action to stop these crimes.

Negotiations between Hamas and Israel

But recently Israel and Hamas have seemed to be backing away from the positions that prevented a temporary truce agreement in Gaza. Hamas has scaled down its demand for a comprehensive ceasefire and full Israeli withdrawal as a precondition for any transfer of the Israeli hostages held since October 7. “Hamas is now ready to negotiate a partial transfer of hostages in exchange for a temporary truce,” the influential Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram reports. It also claims that Israel, in turn, has shown “some flexibility” in the latest round of talks held in Doha, Qatar.

Apparently, the Israeli delegation in Doha is showing some willingness to negotiate, albeit cautiously, on the issue of humanitarian access to northern Gaza, as well as some flexibility in relation to the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released from Israeli jails as part of a truce/hostage exchange agreement. “I think both sides are starting to realize they are losing,” an Egyptian official close to the joint Egyptian-Qatari mediation team told Al-Ahram. He explained that Hamas “cannot turn a blind eye to the significant losses it has suffered on the ground, both in terms of its fighting capacity and in terms of support among the people of Gaza.”

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not be willing to admit it, Israel is losing on the diplomatic front. The UN Security Council has passed a resolution demanding a ceasefire and the public in both Europe and now the US are increasingly outspoken in their criticism of Israel. The Biden administration’s position is understandable: in the run-up to the election, the US President would betray even his closest relative, let alone Netanyahu. It is an open secret that Israel suffered a significant diplomatic setback at the UN, when, despite an intense Israeli campaign in Washington, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US permanent representative, abstained from voting on a draft resolution introduced by 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire for the remaining two weeks of Ramadan. According to Maged Abdelfattah Abdelaziz, the Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States at the United Nations, the Arab delegations in New York lobbied hard to win the support of the other four permanent members of the UNSC. Ultimately, he said, that lobbying prevailed over Israel’s opposition to the draft resolution. The resolution was adopted with the support of 14 Member States, drawing applause from some delegations. According to Maged Abdelfattah Abdelaziz, the US abstention is a sign that the truce talks mediated by Egypt and Qatar are bearing fruit.

Many Arab capitals, including Cairo and Doha, expressed satisfaction with the resolution. A statement issued by an Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that Egypt welcomed the resolution calling for a ceasefire, especially since the UN Security Council had repeatedly refused to back previous proposals. The resolution was openly supported by the European powers, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, whose eyes were finally opened to the Palestinian tragedy, declaring through gritted teeth that its implementation was “vital for the protection of all civilians.”

“Friendly” relations between the US and Israel

While Hamas has said it is ready to move forward with prisoner and hostage exchanges, Netanyahu, who has nothing to lose as after the Palestinian massacre he faces multiple criminal cases for his previous misdeeds, has bitten the bullet and is making one mistake after another. In his anger, he immediately suspended a planned trip by an Israeli delegation to Washington to discuss the next phase of the war, including Israel’s plans to attack Rafah. In response, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the government was “puzzled” by the decision to cancel the visit, which had been scheduled to discuss US concerns about any possible offensive in southern Gaza.

Tensions between the US and Israel are rising as the humanitarian situation in Gaza deteriorates. Washington has repeatedly called on Israel to heed the growing outcry both within America itself and within the international community over the killing of Palestinian civilians, attacks on medical infrastructure and restrictions on humanitarian aid. As tensions rise over Israeli plans to attack Rafah, US officials are increasingly voicing highly public criticisms of their ally. US President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, CIA chief William Burns and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have all openly stressed the need to properly resolve at least the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Speaking less than 24 hours before the US abstained from voting on the UN Security Council resolution, Harris called for an immediate ceasefire, saying it would be a huge mistake to attack Rafah and warning Israel of the “consequences” of any such attack. Diplomatic sources expect that in the talks in Washington between Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan the US will reiterate the concerns already expressed to Israel by Blinken and Burns during their repeated but inconclusive visits to the Middle East. “The US has been supporting Israel almost unconditionally for over five months, during which time Netanyahu has ignored US calls to share his plans on what will happen after the war ends or how Israel intends to evacuate civilians from Rafah,” says Hisham Youssef, a former senior Arab League negotiator on the Arab-Israeli struggle. “The US has grown increasingly frustrated by Netanyahu, leading to a gradual shift in the US position.”

The ill-considered actions of the UN and other international organizations

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who visited Egypt’s border with Gaza, said that he had come to Rafah “to spotlight the pain of Palestinians in Gaza… [as they] remain stuck in a non-stop nightmare” and called on Israel to remove all obstacles to the entry of aid. But Israel has repeatedly ignored criticism over its blocking of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said that the UNSC resolution will not stop Israel from continuing with the war. “Israel will probably attack Rafah” is the opinion shared by many media outlets in the Arab world, but they believe it will be difficult for Netanyahu to completely ignore the recent shift in Washington’s position.

Arab diplomatic sources believe that the US is seeking to use the momentum created by the UN Security Council resolution to strike a deal that includes the return of all Israeli hostages, an effective civilian evacuation scheme in Rafah, the expulsion of the surviving Hamas leaders from Gaza, and the enactment of new legal measures against Hamas. In addition, US diplomats are also working on some kind of plan for the day after the war, including the development of administrative schemes and security measures primarily aimed at satisfying Israel. As usual, Washington has forgotten about the people of the Gaza Strip or the goal of creating an independent Palestinian state.

According to Mohamed Ibrahim, who was a senior Egyptian negotiator on the 2011 Gilad Shalit swap deal, this week’s UN Security Council resolution is a step towards a possible truce. But he warned that any truce remains dependent on political will and that a transition from a truce to a ceasefire will require continued pressure (particularly on the Palestinians) from mediators including the US.

Diplomatic sources do not rule out the possibility that the US will impose some conditions on Israel’s extensive use of American weapons in its war on Gaza. The US has already ordered an investigation into possible violations of international humanitarian law in connection with Israel’s use of weapons in Gaza. But this is merely an expression of intention, and is not backed up by specific details such as dates or concrete plans.

Following the UN Security Council resolution, reports appeared in the Israeli press (citing informed Israeli sources) that if Israel violates the UN Security Council resolution then it may face further legal action in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Earlier this year, the International Court of Justice granted an application for provisional measures in a case brought against Israel by South Africa for committing genocide in Gaza. Earlier, South Africa had joined Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros and Djibouti in filing an request to the International Criminal Court to investigate possible Israeli crimes in Gaza. On this occasion, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, said: “It is now the responsibility of the United Nations Security Council to ensure that there is compliance with the resolution.” But what can the entire UN and its Security Council do when their work is constantly and unapologetically blocked by Western countries including the United States, Britain and France?


Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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