Ceasefire or truce? Any Gaza deal could break Netanyahu’s coalition

Khalil Harb, The Cradle, February 8, 2024 —

The fate of Israel’s coalition government now hangs on a Gaza agreement. A short truce will continue the war and Tel Aviv’s global censure. A full ceasefire will deliver a Hamas victory.

There are two words that sum up all the noise around the Paris negotiations over a Gaza war settlement today: “temporary” and “sustainable.”

The truce envisaged by the parties present in Paris – Qatar, Egypt, Israel, the US, and France – is a “framework agreement.” The Israeli occupation authorities want any deal to deliver only a “temporary cessation of military operations,” which augurs an eventual resumption of its massacre in Gaza. Hamas and other Palestinian resistance factions, meanwhile, are proposing, through various amendments, a complete cessation of military operations as a prelude to a “sustainable calm.”

It is not yet clear why the US administration of Joe Biden, the official sponsor of Israel’s four-month-long massacre, insists on dealing with the “Gaza war” file as if its core issue is the release of Israeli prisoners held in Gaza – rather than the resolution of a decades-long occupation of Palestinian lands and people that led to the state of affairs today.

Any treatment or settlement of this war must start with the occupation and its vast repercussions – the very essence of the conflict. Instead, the White House’s stance reflects an American view that Washington does not bear sole responsibility for now, and raises questions about the nature and effectiveness of the role of the Qatari and Egyptian “mediators.”

The latter two Arab states were part of the Paris discussions to draft the agreement over a week ago, with US–Israeli intelligence agencies represented by CIA Chief William Burns, Mossad Chief David Barnea, and the head of the Israeli Shin Bet Ronen Barr.

Hours after Hamas announced the submission of its “framework agreement” response to the Qatari and Egyptian mediators, statements issued by the Israelis and Americans revealed their intent to sabotage a genuine peace or a halt to military conflict.

US President Biden commented prematurely by saying that Hamas’ remarks were “exaggerated,” while Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant – fresh out of talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – said the response presented by Hamas was “negative,” and was intentionally drafted to be rejected by Israel.

From his perspective, Gallant isn’t exactly wrong. What Israel seeks from the agreement is a US–Arab mandate to restart its war once Israeli prisoners have been released by Gaza’s resistance.

Israel’s commitment to genocide

The bottom line is fairly unambiguous: Israel wants a continuous war. Gallant concedes publicly that “the war is far from over.” Netanyahu, after meeting Blinken, said, “We have to end the war with a landslide victory, and it is a matter of time. Our army is advancing systematically, and we have ordered the army to work in Rafah,” where the occupation army has for days been threatening a major offensive along the border with Egypt. This will mean the re-displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians already displaced to the border area over the past weeks.

A leading source in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which participated in preparing the resistance’s response to the Paris document, tells The Cradle that the paper presented to the Palestinian factions “did not include any agreement to end the war.” As matters currently stand, he says:

There is no such thing. There is a truce and a prisoner exchange, and then the issue of stopping the war will be discussed in later stages.

The PIJ official reveals that the document presented to Hamas was “booby-trapped and full of mines and tricks,” and says Qatar and Egypt are essentially telling Hamas to submit to a three-month ceasefire, and trust that the Israeli army will do nothing after that.

This Qatari–Egyptian encouragement seems aspirational at best, perhaps betting on the possibility that upcoming US presidential elections heat up – just as the proposed truce ends – and will prevent Netanyahu from resuming his bloody attack on Gaza. The Palestinian source, however, says that the resistance has no such fantasies and addressed the agreement document accordingly, as it guarantees nothing – neither the withdrawal of tanks nor the prevention of war and targeted assassinations.

Demands of the Palestinian resistance

According to available information, internal discussions within and between Hamas and the other resistance factions took place after receiving the Paris document from an Egyptian mediator. The Palestinian source says that while a large part of the Hamas decision lies with the group’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ political bureau (based in Qatar), represented by Ismail Haniyeh, Khaled Meshaal, and Musa Abu Marzouk, also met and offered their opinions to the decisionmakers in Gaza.

The holdup over a final agreement depends almost entirely on the dispute between those who seek a “temporary” solution to the war, and others who demand a “sustainable” one.

Entitled “General Framework for a Comprehensive Agreement between the Parties,” the document breaks down the proposed truce into three phases:

The first, lasting 45 days, includes a clause about “a temporary cessation of military operations, the cessation of aerial reconnaissance, and the repositioning of Israeli forces away outside densely populated areas throughout the Gaza Strip, in order to enable the parties to complete the exchange of detainees and prisoners.” In subsequent phases, the document refers to “initiating [indirect] discussions on the requirements for restoring calm,” the entry of and Palestinian access to aid and fuel, and the reconstruction of hospitals and introduction of tents and other temporary housing units.

There were few details on how any of this would be done, and within what timelines, once the prisoner exchange was complete. Hamas’ amendments sought to rectify that, clarifying the length of these phases and establishing clear deliverables.

As the agreement stands – per Israeli wishes – it does not include any reference to the cessation of military aggression on Gaza. The Palestinian Ministry of Health confirms that the Israeli aggression has so far – since 7 October – led to the death of around 28,000 Palestinians and the injury of 70,000 others, while Israeli air raids, artillery shelling, and ground operations have damaged over 60 percent of housing units – completely destroying 53,000 of them.

In the four-month absence of effective Arab and international protection of Palestinian civilian life, it was left to Sinwar and his Gazan colleagues to address the paper with tangible, urgent requirements of Palestinians. In Hamas’ “Initial Response” amendments submitted to the Paris group, it introduces its response as thus:

This agreement aims to stop mutual military operations between the parties, reach complete and sustainable calm, exchange prisoners between the two parties, end the siege on Gaza, [allow for its] reconstruction, return residents and displaced persons to their homes, and provide shelter requirements and relief for all residents in all areas of the Gaza Strip.

In its response, Hamas added an “annex to the framework agreement,” noting that this annex is an integral part of the deal and specifying that the guarantors of the agreement are Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, Russia, and the United Nations. Other than requiring a “complete and sustainable” ceasefire, Hamas demanded some key deliverables that would help maintain the peace, including ending the current occupation of Gaza, launching a large-scale relief program for hundreds of thousands of displaced people, and sheltering them, before launching a comprehensive reconstruction phase.

This is anathema for the Israelis, who want to avoid ‘the devil in the details’ as much as possible. Tel Aviv just needs a prisoner exchange to re-arrange its domestic political scene – whether public dissent or power struggles within its coalition – before unleashing the worst of its military firepower on Gaza.

Even after receiving Hamas’ response, Israel’s security services are still betting that an assassination of Sinwar will deliver it a victory – as though more resistance won’t rise in his place. During Blinken’s visit, Netanyahu crowed about permanently eliminating Hamas leaders in Gaza and vowed to invade Rafah – ignoring the concerns of the Egyptian mediators.

Publicly, the Israelis pushed a narrative that Hamas was scuttling the agreement. Privately, Tel Aviv was rushing to ascertain whether the Hamas response – which Qatar delivered to the Mossad – represented a final position or was open to further negotiation.

As one Israeli analyst noted in Haaretz, Netanyahu is in the toughest of positions given the positive Hamas response. If the deal goes through, the Israeli prime minister will be forced to choose one of the two sides in his coalition government: either the extremist wing consisting of right-wing settlers like National Defense Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, or the more US-friendly wing led by Minister Gadi Eisenkot and war council member Benny Gantz. In short, either Gantz and Eisenkot will dissolve the emergency Israeli government, or Ben Gvir and Smotrich will.

All of this revolves around whether there is a “truce” or not, about its duration or permanence, and the details of which Palestinian detainees in occupation jails will be included in a prisoner exchange. Not to mention the possibility of myriad flare-ups in the interim: the recognition of Palestinian statehood by some western allies, the perceived Palestinian victory in Gaza if the war ends, the advancement of a genuine ‘two-state solution,’ and continued escalations on Israel’s northern border and in the Red Sea.

The extremists in Israel’s government cannot abide a cessation of its Gaza genocide, let alone the thought that its US ally is warming up to the idea of a Palestinian state.

In the final analysis, Hamas’ pragmatic and logical amendments to the agreement are what Tel Aviv fears most: a permanent ceasefire built on strictly determined phases, timelines, and deliverables guaranteed by regional states and world powers, who, in order to stop this problem once and for all, now have their eye on enforcing a permanent resolution to the Palestinian issue.

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