Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 616, 22 March 2024

The War in Gaza: The search for a ceasefire and military operations in Rafah
Nuha Aamina

In the news
On 22 March, a report in the Washington Post, referring to Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Tel Aviv, said he has gone to "warn Israeli leaders against a ground invasion of the densely packed Gaza city of Rafah and to try to advance a cease-fire plan." The above report also referred to a statement by Blinken in Cairo on 21 March: "President Biden has been very clear that a major ground operation in Rafah would be a mistake and something that we can’t support."

On 21 March, during his visit to Saudi Arabia, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, announced that the US has “put forward” a resolution “before the United Nations Security Council that does call for an immediate ceasefire tied to the release of hostages.”. 

On 19 March, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, stated: “The extent of Israel’s continued restrictions on entry of aid into Gaza, together with the manner in which it continues to conduct hostilities, may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which is a war crime.” 

On 16 March, ahead of his two-day trip to the Middle East, German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, called on Israel to allow “aid to reach Gaza on a larger scale now…There is a danger that a comprehensive offensive in Rafah will result in many terrible civilian casualties, which must be strictly prohibited.”

On 15 March, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, approved an operation in Rafah and said that the inhabitants would be evacuated. The Israeli government stated that the Israeli Defence Force was “preparing operationally and for the evacuation of the population.” Netanyahu also said: “No amount of international pressure will stop us from realising all the goals of the war: eliminating Hamas, releasing all our hostages and ensuring that Gaza will no longer pose a threat against Israel.” On the same day, Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said that Egypt was seeking to “reach a ceasefire in Gaza.” In the US, President Joseph Biden agreed with US Senator Chuck Schumer when he called for new elections in Israel and criticised Netanyahu for being an “obstacle to peace.”

Issues at large
First, the significance of Rafah. The city, geographically situated at the southern tip of Gaza, bordering Egypt, has witnessed 2.3 million civilians relocate from the north during the last five months. Rafah is seen as the last safe zone for the Palestinians in Gaza, and many fear an attack on the city will force people to flee to neighbouring countries. 

Second, Israel’s reluctance to accept a ceasefire. The US and other countries from Europe have been pressurizing Israel to reach a ceasefire agreement. Hamas presented a proposal on 14 March, to the mediators urging Israel to stop its “aggression” against Palestinian civilians, allow the passage of aid, the return of Gazans to their respective homes and withdraw Israeli forces. For Israel, Hamas’ demands are “unrealistic.” Israeli security cabinet member and Minister of National Unity, Chile Tropper, stated that if Israel had to arrive at “a deal that will return our boys and girls home, it will come at a cost, and a heavy one.” 

Third, deepening rift between Israel and the US. The US support for Israel appears to be weakening, though it has been backing Israel's efforts to eliminate Hamas. The US has also criticized Israel on the humanitarian crisis; on 14 March, Schumer stated that the current Israeli government no longer "fits the needs of Israel.” At the state level, there is support for a two-state solution in the US; Biden has also emphasized the same. However, for Netanyahu, these are unrealistic expectations. 

Fourth, the worsening humanitarian crisis. According to health authorities in Gaza, the Israeli ground and air campaign led to the deaths of more than 31,500 people,  According to a UN-backed assessment, there is likely to be a spike surge in famine, affecting 300,000 people if there is no access to aid.

In perspective
First, with Israel getting ready for military operations in Rafah, the US and other Arab states are determined to find a ceasefire agreement in place. 

Second, though there is external pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire, Netanyahu seems to going ahead with his plans for military operations in Rafah. For him, unless the Hamas is eliminated, Israel will not end its war in Gaza.

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