Diplomatic activity intensifies, but in Gaza, life is still hellish

Despite the surge in diplomatic activity, not much has changed as Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip nears its seventh month. Still, there is room for progress to be made.

Diplomatic activity intensifies, but in Gaza, life is still hellish

After 35,000 Palestinian deaths and 80% of the Gaza Strip reduced to rubble, many might expect the calls for Israel to cease its operations to be deafening. They are not.

Almost seven months in, the talk is still of a possible ceasefire, as it has been since the first few weeks. The Israeli army keeps threatening to enter Rafah—the final sanctuary for more than a million displaced Gazans—but so far, it has not.

The United States, Egypt, and Qatar continue to try to forge an acceptable ceasefire deal for both Israel and Hamas. Any agreement would involve hostage/prisoner swaps, access to humanitarian aid, and a time-limited pause in the fighting.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Israel had offered “a very generous ceasefire” deal and urged Hamas to accept it. Then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s army would press on regardless, even if a deal is reached.

Despite its technological superiority and huge firepower, Israel is unlikely to destroy Hamas entirely, but Netanyahu is nevertheless trying to prove that he can manage the crisis and defeat Israel’s enemies.

Division on all sides

Netanyahu is under pressure from his far-right coalition partners, who have threatened to pull out and collapse his government if he agrees on a ceasefire deal. Yet that is precisely what the families of the remaining hostages want him to do.

Most countries think lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come about when Palestinians are finally granted a state of their own, but that has never looked like a more distant prospect.

For the Palestinians, those who favour armed resistance (led by Hamas) and those who favour unarmed resistance (led by Fatah) remain poles apart. Palestinians need strong representation, and the two main political parties continue to squabble and spurn all reconciliation efforts.

Any ceasefire agreement would involve hostage/prisoner swaps, access to humanitarian aid, and a time-limited pause in the fighting.

Since February, they have met in Moscow and Beijing but have still not agreed to bury their differences and join forces for the good of the Palestinian people.

In Israel, too, there is a deep political rift across the country's Jewish majority. Loathing and distrust between the three big camps—the ultra-Orthodox, the religious Zionists (including settlers), and the secularists—has never been higher.

Despite Israel still being at war, Israelis have resumed their huge protests against the Netanyahu government. Never before in the country's history has its people rallied en masse to call for the government's ouster during an active conflict.

In the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, where 750,000 Jewish settlers live, the situation is extremely tense. Attacks against Palestinians have grown in frequency and ferocity. The Israeli army stands back while armed settlers storm Palestinian villages.

Israel losing global opinion

Internationally, Israel's support has waned, and genocide cases have been filed against it. The International Criminal Court in The Hague could soon issue arrest warrants for senior Israeli leaders accused of war crimes, up to and including Netanyahu. In Washington, US President Joe Biden is caught between a rock and a hard place in the run-up to the November presidential elections.

Read more: Super Tuesday showed how Gaza is shaping the tight race for the White House

It remains a political imperative that he continues to support Israel, but from universities to unions, he is losing support from Democrat voters for writing Israel a blank cheque.

He has expressed disappointment at Israel's handling of the Gaza war, abstained from a symbolic UN vote calling for a ceasefire, and sanctioned a handful of the most violent Jewish settlers for attacking Palestinians in the West Bank.

But in every other respect, US support for Israel has been rock solid, as evidenced just a few days ago when Congress approved $26.4bn in military aid to the Israelis.

Read more: Why unconditional US support for Israel must stop

For Biden, it is a political imperative that he continues to support Israel, but from universities to unions, he is losing support from Democrats.

In targeting its most senior generals, Israel has taken the fight to Iran, and Iran has hit back directly against Israel for the first time, albeit in a telegraphed and easily intercepted launch of drones and missiles.

In the event, there was a managed de-escalation, but analysts say the rules of engagement between the two foes have now changed and fear that any future escalation could involve weapons of mass destruction.

While Iran cheered when Hamas launched its surprise assault against southern Israel on 7 October, Tehran has not gone to war for Gaza's ruling party, which is resented by many in the Middle East for both its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.

The role of Turkey

Many regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation, but Turkey does not. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insists Hamas is a resistance group fighting for liberation.

Erdoğan's welcome of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Turkey sent a message to the world as well as to Turks. Shortly after, Turkey said it had asked to join South Africa's genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

Erdoğan is convinced that Hamas should be included in talks about the future of Gaza as a legitimate interlocutor, but neither Washington nor Tel Aviv will accept this.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan has said that once a Palestinian state is established within the 1967 borders, the armed element of Hamas will no longer be needed, and it will become a purely political movement.

In the meantime, Erdoğan's position on Hamas, Israel, and the genocide prosecution seems to have caused diary issues for Biden. The two men were supposed to meet in Washington on Thursday, 9 May, but "scheduling" problems arose.

Read more: 'Postponement' of Biden-Erdoğan meeting raises eyebrows

In summary, there appears to be no end in sight to the violence being waged on Gaza and no progress towards resolving the Palestinian issue. Yet in the past, when a similar hopelessness prevailed, Israel and Arab countries unexpectedly made progress.

To do so, both Israeli and Palestinian leaders will have to reclaim the initiative from the extremists on both sides. The road to a Palestinian state is long and precarious but not impossible. 

Of course, this hinges on Washington's ability to be a fair and honest broker, and under Biden's leadership, this doesn't look likely.

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