Conflict Alerts # 382, 26 May 2021
In the news
On 21 May, Israel's Cabinet voted to approve Egypt-mediated ceasefire with the Hamas in the Gaza strip, following 11 days of airstrikes and rocket attacks. Palestinians conducted celebratory gatherings in the occupied territories, and Israel removed emergency restrictions in rocket-hit areas. While both parties have claimed victory, they also maintained that the holding of the ceasefire would depend on ground circumstances.
During 25-27 May, Antony Blinken, as a part of his first visit as the US Secretary of State to the Middle East, met the leaders of Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Jordan. On 25 May, in a statement in Jerusalem, he said: "I traveled here at the request of President Biden, who asked me to come to pursue four basic objectives. First, to demonstrate the commitment of the United States to Israel's security. Second, to start to work toward greater stability and reduce tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Third, to support urgent humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for Gaza to benefit the Palestinian people. And fourth, to continue to rebuild our relationship with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority."
In Jordan, he said: "We see the cease-fire not as an end, but as a beginning - something to build on." In a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas announced that the US plans to reopen the Jerusalem consulate "to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people."
Issues at large
First, the international pressure on Israel and Hamas to declare a ceasefire. Israel and Hamas engaged in a series of airstrikes and rocket attacks against each other. The strikes that continued for 11 days resulted in asymmetric casualties, with Gaza suffering the most. Initial statements and requests from the rest of the world went unheeded. Finally, Egypt used its influence on Hamas to agree to a ceasefire, which was accepted by Israel.
Second, the differing stances by Israel and Hamas on ceasefire. According to Hamas, the maintenance of the truce is conditional on Israel "lift(ing) their hands-off Sheikh Jarrah (where Palestinians face eviction from their houses) and Al-Aqsa Mosque." However, Israel denies making such a promise and calls the ceasefire unconditional.
Third, the role of Egypt. The truce was mediated by Egypt, the only state having open communication lines with Hamas and Israel and sharing borders with both Israel and the Gaza strip. Despite an Egyptian blockade devastating the Gazan economy, Hamas being the Muslim Brotherhood's (a political movement banned in Egypt) militant Palestinian branch and the pro-government media of Egypt portraying Hamas as a threat, Egypt, was able to broker the cease-fire successfully.
Fourth, the call for a two-state solution. On 19 May, US President Biden called for de-escalation and reiterated the two-state solution as the only way ahead to end the conflict. The idea of a two-state solution is decades old and has been there since the 1940s. Multiple discussions have been held on the idea, and there has been a considerable change in the position of multiple actors that include the Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs and rest of the world.
The recent Israeli-Palestinian violence was the worst since 2014. Regardless of Israel's narrative, the reality is that Israel is the only sovereign authority in the conflict. Both sides have claimed victory over the eleven days of violence. The ceasefire's longevity also heavily depends on the ruling of Israel's Supreme Court on Palestinian eviction. A verdict in the eviction's favour could spur further protests and violence. Moreover, tensions post the ceasefire's announcement shows that the truce is not reflected at the popular level. Although Israel has "temporarily" lifted certain restrictions on the Al Aqsa, Sheikh Jarra persists as a complication.
Blinken's announcement reflects a commitment to the two-state solution and status-quo on the Haram al-sharif. He also promised aid to the Gazans but maintained that it would be kept out of Hamas' hands. The latter has been accused of siphoning international aid for procuring weapons, thus complicating international aid distribution among Gazans. The US is trying to bolster the internationally backed Palestinian Authority under Abbas and ensure the ceasefire holds. However, the ceasefire could crumble, as it did in 2014 when Israel attempted to execute Hamas's military commander Mohammed Deif.