Israel and Hamas see Gaza ceasefire negotiations as an existential battle
by James M Dorsey on 22 Apr 2024 1 Comment

The Gaza ceasefire negotiations have all but broken down, with Israel and Hamas pursuing mutually exclusive goals. At stake in the negotiations is more than just a ceasefire and a second Hamas-Israeli prisoner swap. Israel and Hamas both see the negotiations as key to whether there will be a post-war credible Israeli-Palestinian peace process and what it would entail.


Israel is determined to prevent a ceasefire from constituting a stepping stone for ending the conflict with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. To achieve its goal, Israel has refused to negotiate a permanent ceasefire, insisting that the war can only end with the destruction of Hamas, maintained that it must control Gaza’s post-war administration, and sought to significantly complicate the negotiations by discrediting Qatar as a key mediator and forcing it to expel Hamas’ negotiators.


For its part, Hamas has refused to back down on demands that would ensure its survival and potentially set the stage for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas’ demands include a complete, albeit phased, Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, a lifting of the 17-year-old blockade of Gaza that has been aided and abetted by Egypt, the return of displaced Palestinians to their often devastated homes in the north of the Strip, and the reconstruction of the war-ravaged territory.


To sweeten its demands, Hamas reportedly offered to dismantle its military wing if Israel allows for the creation of a Palestinian state. "Hamas officials told me they will abolish the armed wing and continue as a political party when a Palestinian state is established," Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan told a news conference in Doha alongside Qatar Prime Minister Abdulrahman Al-Thani [April 17-ed].


Mr. Fidan met this week in Doha with Hamas officials and negotiators, including Isamil Haniyeh, the head of the group’s political bureau. Mr. Hanyeh is scheduled to visit Turkey this weekend to talk to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.


Hamas’ choice as its messenger of Turkey, one of a handful of countries that have relations with the group, was not coincidental. lt constituted an effort to keep channels open if Israel succeeds in discrediting Qatar as a mediator and forcing the Gulf state to expel Hamas officials, even if that may be dismissed in Jerusalem and Washington.


While Turkey would unlikely set itself up as Israel’s next target by welcoming Hamas officials, it could play a more prominent role in ceasefire negotiations if Israeli efforts succeeded and Hamas officials were forced to move to Iran, Syria, Lebanon or Algeria, countries with which Turkey has close ties.


Mr. Fidan’s presence this week in Qatar, where Turkey has a military base, may not have been coincidental. Speaking at the news conference with Mr. Fidan, Mr. Al-Thani, the main Qatari ceasefire negotiator, said the Gulf state was reviewing its mediation role. Without naming names, the prime minister appeared to be accusing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and some US Congress members of sabotaging the ceasefire negotiations.


"Unfortunately, I mean, we have seen that there has been an abuse of this mediation… in favour of narrow political interests. This means that the state of Qatar has called for a comprehensive evaluation of this role. We are now at this stage to evaluate mediation and also evaluate how the parties engage in this mediation,” Mr. Al-Thani said.


Mr. Al-Thani agreed already in October when the Gaza war erupted, that Qatar would re-evaluate its relationship with Hamas once the war ended. The prime minister’s remarks this week came on the heels of two statements by the Qatari embassy in Washington responding to Congress members’ questioning of Qatar’s mediation role and demanding that the Gulf state expel Hamas representatives.


“It is certainly tempting to do as (they) suggest and walk away from seemingly intransigent parties. After all, none of the warring parties does anything for Qatar,” the embassy said. The statements noted that Qatar hosted Hamas officials at the request of the United States more than a decade ago to create a back channel with the group and enable Qatari mediation in multiple clashes between Israel and Hamas.


The statements failed to mention that Mr. Netanyahu over the years had requested Qatar to fund salaries of employees of the Hamas-controlled Gazan government in a bid to keep the Palestinian polity divided between the group and its archrival, Al Fatah, which controls Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank-based and internationally recognised Palestine Authority.


If successful in undermining Qatar’s role, Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in Congress would have dealt a blow to a pillar of the Gulf state’s soft and hard power strategy. Home to the largest US military base in Qatar and a major non-NATO ally, Qatar has made mediation a pillar of its projection on the international stage.


In November, Qatar mediated a one-week Gaza ceasefire during which Hamas swapped more than 100 of the 250 people it and other Palestinians abducted during the group’s October 7 attack against Israel for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.


Qatar was also the mediator in negotiations between the United States and the Taliban that led to the withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan in 2021. It often acts as an intermediary alongside Oman between the United States and Iran and has mediated conflicts in Africa.


At the end of the day, Israel, its US backers, and Hamas are fighting at the expense of innocent Gazans driven into destitution by the seven-month-old war, the remaining Hamas-held hostages, and Palestinians incarcerated by Israel who would be released as part of a second prisoner exchange.


Israel and Hamas both argue they are fighting existential battles. While that may be true, it’s little consolation for Gazans whose lives have been, possibly irreparably, shattered, or Israelis traumatised and shaken by the unprecedented Hamas attack and Iran’s missile and drone barrage in response to Israel’s bombing this month of the Iranian consulate in Damascus. “So long as violence remains the path of least resistance, tragedy will compound the tragedy, and catastrophe will succeed catastrophe,” said journalist Khalid Diab.


Courtesy The Turbulent World with James M. Dorsey

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