Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 613, 8 March 2024

The War in Gaza: The Elusive Search for a Ceasefire
Shamini Velayutham

In the news
On 7 March, the War in Gaza entered its seventh month. Referring to it, the US President, in his State of the Union address, said: "As we look to the future, the only real solution to the situation is a two-state solution over time." On 3 March, US Vice-President Kamala Harris said: "Let's get a ceasefire. Let's reunite the hostages with their families. And let's provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza." On 3 March, US Vice-President Kamala Harris said: "Let's get a ceasefire. Let's reunite the hostages with their families. And let's provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza." On the same day, US President Joe Biden stated that he is determined to secure a deal with the warring parties to secure the release of Israeli captives held by Hamas and to establish a six-week ceasefire. Meanwhile, Israel's war cabinet member and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political rival, Benny Gantz, met with US Vice President Kamala Harris and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

On 6 March, Hamas said: "We will continue to negotiate through our brotherly mediators to reach an agreement that fulfils the demands and interests of our people." The US formulated a revised draft of a proposed UNSC ceasefire resolution that calls for "an immediate ceasefire of roughly six weeks in Gaza together with the release of all hostages." The third revised text calls for a "temporary ceasefire."

On 5 March, three days after the ceasefire negotiations in Cairo, led by the US, Qatar, and Egypt, the talks ended without a breakthrough. The ceasefire negotiations stalled as the Israeli delegation did not show up in Cairo, citing that Hamas did not release the list of captives. Meanwhile, the US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, met Qatar's Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman, to discuss a six-week ceasefire and efforts to release hostages held by Hamas.

On 4 March, Israeli Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant stated that the war would not end until the Hamas were defeated. On the same day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) chief, Volker Turk, during the council meeting in Geneva, stated that the war in Gaza is a "powder keg" that could engender a larger conflict, causing repercussions for the Middle East and other regions.

On 2 March, the US and Jordan carried out an airdrop of humanitarian aid to Gaza. The airdrop was carried out by three C-130 planes. Earlier, on 29 February, Israeli forces opened fire on aid seekers who gathered near the Nabulsi roundabout in the south-west of Gaza City, killing more than 100. 

Issues at large
First, the elusive search for a ceasefire, since the November humanitarian pause. In November 2023, the US, Qatar, and Egypt succeeded in getting a temporary humanitarian pause, agreed by Israel and Hamas. From 22 November, the pause lasted seven days before collapsing amidst accusations and counteraccusations by Israel and Hamas. Under the agreement, 105 hostages were released by Hamas, which included 81 Israeli women and children, 23 Thai nationals and one Filipino. In exchange, Israel released nearly 240 Palestinian prisoners. Ever since, there have been numerous efforts and calls for a longer ceasefire; discussions have taken place in the region and at the UN with less success. The recent one in the series is the statement by the US President regarding a Ramadan ceasefire and the frantic efforts during the last two weeks to reach it.

Second, the focus on ceasefire and the multiple demands. Based on available information to the public, the demands for a ceasefire include the ceasing of military operations by Israel, the release of the hostages by Hamas, and allowing more humanitarian aid into Gaza, including medical supplies, tents and construction materials to rebuild. Hamas also want the release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel in a specific proportion (400 Palestinian prisoners for 40 Israeli hostages).  

Third, increasing American pressure on Israel and PM Benjamin Netanyahu. President Biden's reference to the "Two State Solution" in his State of the Union address is one of the latest statements aimed at pressuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The US airdrop of aid during the previous week in Gaza was a strong statement from Biden against Netanyahu. The US Vice President's statement on the aid and the White House hosting Benny Gantz, Netanyahu's rival in Israel, is a clear message to Netanyahu. 

Fourth, the humanitarian situation in Gaza. In February, the UN warned that at least 576,000 people are "one step away from famine." There is a limited distribution of aid as Israel allows a minimum of trucks into Gaza. Despite pressure from the UN and US, Netanyahu remains stubborn in disallowing more aid to Gaza.

In perspective
A ceasefire before Ramadan and more aid into Gaza are the immediate requirements. Developments during the week highlight the complications in achieving both. Israel and Hamas seem unmoved in their position and unwilling to compromise. 

Will the thinning of American patience with Netanyahu make the latter understand and make a compromise? Will the regional pressure be sufficient enough to force Hamas to take a positive step in releasing the hostages? These are two primary questions of the week. The answers look bleak on both.

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