Three reasons why the Gaza war won’t end soon

None of the major actors in the Gaza war seem ready or willing to do what they need to do to end it. In some cases, they actively want it to continue.

Three reasons why the Gaza war won’t end soon

When Israel lost 24 soldiers in one day this week, very few people thought that it would put sufficient pressure on the Israeli government to order a ceasefire.

It was Israel’s highest daily death toll since 7 October, and Israelis have not forgiven the government for failings that led to such a massive loss of life on the day militants from Gaza attacked. In other circumstances, it could have been enough.

News of the army’s losses came as Israeli hostages’ families stormed the Israeli parliament to demand that more be done to bring their loved ones home. Concessions, maybe.

Yet the determination of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to continue its military offensive, overcoming any setbacks or tactical shortcomings, has been unwavering.

The same could be said of Hamas’s attitude in recent weeks, while the United States — perhaps the only external actor who could force an end to the war — shows no sign of using its leverage to do so.

Between this trio of Netanyahu, Hamas, and US President Joe Biden, the world hears only the same answer: “No.”

View from Israel

The families of hostages held by Hamas are desperate for Israel’s government to bring them home. Indeed, more than 130 have already been returned in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Why, then, can’t the same be done to free their relatives?

Israel’s public is still reeling from the 7 October attacks. The country’s war cabinet appears to be exploiting the prisoner issue for political gain.

Netanyahu is determined to continue his military offensive. The US the only external actor with leverage to pressure him isn't stopping him.

Netanyahu and his right-wing ruling coalition seem largely indifferent to videos released by Gazan factions aiming to heighten tension between anxious families fearing the worst and politicians gradually trying to lower families' expectations.

In his fist-thumping fervour, Netanyahu wants the war to continue regardless, or at least until he can secure his political and personal future. He will face a chorus of blame when the war does end, and an investigation begins into the military and intelligence failures that led to such devastation on 7 October.

Israel wasn't ready, and Israelis want to know why — given that their prime minister has built his political career on being 'Mr Security.'

Netanyahu will not be alone in facing calls to resign. The entire country's political and military leadership is on the block. This creates a vested interest in extending the conflict or even widening it.

A new front in Lebanon would kick any investigation into the long grass, keep Netanyahu's war-time coalition together, and delay elections in which the public is expected to punish its political rulers for their role in "Israel's 9/11".

View from Gaza

It takes two to tango, and an embattled Hamas, whose senior leaders are being killed around the Middle East, is in no mood to talk, let alone surrender.

Although it is not the only militant outfit, Hamas is still the biggest, and what remains of the group in the Gaza Strip appears thoroughly disinterested in any resolution, prisoner swap, or ceasefire without an overarching political settlement.

Its Israeli captives have become more valuable since Israel started targeting Hamas officials, such as its assassination of Saleh Al-Arouri in Beirut.

The fate of the prisoners is now closely linked to that of Hamas's own remaining leaders, who have struggled to mitigate the war's effects on Palestinian civilians. The collapse of Gaza's healthcare system, widespread hunger, and the outbreak of disease are but three of the myriad problems Gazans face.

Hamas appears thoroughly disinterested in any resolution, prisoner swap, or ceasefire without an overarching political settlement.

Although the people of Gaza are known for their ability to cope, they are getting more fragile as the suffering ramps up. There are many tragedies that are yet to be revealed.

As a fighting outfit, Hamas has suffered heavy losses – estimates range from between 30% and 60% of its forces. Israel has vowed to destroy it and Hamas has vowed to survive. They will not shake hands at this point.

When it comes to the remaining prisoners, Hamas wants to avoid a repeat of the previous, poorly managed exchange in November, where many swapped Palestinian prisoners had only been detained in the days and weeks before.

Finally, assuming that Hamas does survive, it wants to assert its legitimacy not by seeking approval from the Palestine Liberation Organisation or the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah but through its resistance on the ground.

View from Washington

Many feel that the United States, which provides Israel with the bulk of its military hardware, is the only world power capable of using its influence to end the conflict. International pressure – and all efforts at mediation – have proved ineffective in ending the war.

The most the US has done is grumble. It has not come close to telling Israel to stop. Moreover, the White House and most US lawmakers believe that Israel remains justified in doing what it is doing, even after 25,000 deaths.

A global leadership vacuum has therefore been revealed, in which no country with leverage over Israel is willing to use it, and no international grouping can alter Israel's thinking. The lack of solutions and an inability to sponsor a settlement has had global resonance and has set back other peace efforts worldwide.

The US, which gives Israel most of its military hardware, is the only world power capable of using its influence to end the conflict. 

This faltering approach from West has also made other flashpoints more dangerous. Its approach in Yemen and the Red Sea reveals a severe lack of imagination in managing international affairs.

Had it been clever, the West could have decoupled the Gaza war from Iran's machinations using allies such as the Houthis. It could have prevented the war in Gaza from bolstering Iran's negotiating position by initiating a solution for all of Yemen that brought the Houthis in from the cold.

Instead, Biden's administration opted for Cold War tactics: bombing. This inflicts a graze on the opposition. Meanwhile, it serves as a recruitment tool for the local population who suddenly want to join the fight against the 'American imperialists'.

With the US, Israel and Hamas all unwilling to end the war, the world should expect the suffering to continue, regardless of how many UN aid agencies warn of humanitarian catastrophes.

Deaths from disease, starvation, or bombs are all preventable. This applies to the lives of ordinary Gazans, Israeli and Hamas fighters, and the hostages.

Alas, only when the will to end the war is stronger than the will to continue it will people stop dying.

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