The latest ceasefire provides a narrow window of opportunity to the international community, especially the Middle East Quartet (US, EU, Russia and UN), to reinitiate the moribund Middle East Peace process
Dr Yatharth Kachiar
Amidst mounting international pressure, Israel and Hamas agreed to an Egypt-mediated ceasefire after 11 days of airstrikes and violence. The initial mood among the Palestinians in the occupied territories is jubilant as they gathered to celebrate their resistance against the Israeli occupation. How long the ceasefire will endure depends on the circumstances on the ground. What preceded this latest round of conflict is the Israeli expansion into East Jerusalem. The forced expulsion of Palestinian families living in the Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighbourhood that connects the old city to the West Bank, triggered violent protests in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The brewing tension and protests eventually escalated into airstrikes between Israel and Hamas that lasted for 11 days.
Prioritizing human rights and international law
At present, the matter regarding Sheikh Jarrah evictions is pending in the Supreme Court of Israel. The truce might not sustain if Israel decides to move ahead with the eviction process. The latest ceasefire provides a narrow window of opportunity to the international community, especially the Middle East Quartet (US, EU, Russia and UN), to reinitiate the moribund Middle East Peace process. A fresh approach that prioritizes human rights and security for the people living in Israel and Occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) is best suited to create political conditions necessary for conflict resolution.
In the last few years, perpetual crises in West Asia has reduced regional and global priority for the Palestinian issues and their struggle for statehood. Developments in Arab-Israeli relations, such as the signing of Abraham accords in 2020, provided a façade of promoting peace in the region. In essence, the Abraham accords only fulfilled the political and economic aspirations of Israel and the Arab countries and did nothing to change the status quo in Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
The indifference adopted by the international community towards the Israel-Palestinian conflict has widened the already disproportionate power balance between Israel and Palestinians. Despite its considerable leverage over Israel, the US has refrained from taking any strict measures to stop Israel’s illegal settlements in West Bank or hold it responsible for its legal commitments under international law.
Perhaps, nothing damaged the cause of Palestinians more than the policies pursued by the Trump administration. In 2017, the Trump administration’s decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem effectively recognized the contested territory as the capital of Israel. It severely dented America’s image as a neutral mediator in the conflict. Later, the ‘Peace to Prosperity Plan’ unveiled by the Trump administration promoted Israeli right-wing positions at the expense of Palestinians. The complicity shown by international actors towards Israel’s policies contributed to the strengthening of anti-democratic and radical forces in Israel. Unsurprisingly, the current escalation between Israel and Hamas led to unprecedented communal violence within Israeli cities.
Role of international actors
The recent escalation of violence between Israel and Palestinians has refocused the attention of global community towards this long-standing conflict. After 11 days of violence, as the death toll crossed the 200 marks, the international pressure began mounting on Israel and Hamas to de-escalate and agree on a ceasefire. Under immense pressure from the liberal constituency, President Biden firmly asked Prime Minister Netanyahu for a “significant de-escalation” and move toward “the path to a ceasefire”. After initial indifference and hesitancy, President Biden will find it increasingly challenging to push the Israel-Palestine conflict into the background.
The escalating violence between Israel and Hamas also pushed the European Union foreign ministers except Hungry to demand a ceasefire and boost the humanitarian aid for Gaza. The European Union also vowed to relaunch the Middle East Peace process along with the US, Russia and UN. At present, the international discourse is slowly moving towards acknowledging Palestinian rights and identity. The countries with shared liberal values could expedite the process by adopting a rights-based approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Despite its little leverage in West Asia, the European Union can use its normative power to address the human rights and security needs of the people living in Israel and OPT. In this regard, one of the primary tasks will be ending Israel’s illegal expansion into East Jerusalem and West Bank. A stronger transatlantic collaboration can go a long way in limiting Israel’s expansionist policies. Another crucial step that can reduce the cyclical conflict between Israel and Hamas is to ease the Gaza Strip’s blockade and boost the reconstruction mechanism initiated by the UN after the 2014 Gaza war. It would require building synergy with the regional countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey that enjoy considerable leverage with Israel or Hamas.
Most importantly, to break the status quo in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the international actors must stop granting Israel the unlimited right to self-defence without any commitment to international law. For the European Union, it would require moving beyond the constraints of history and taking a unified position on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The lofty ideals that the EU stands for will make little sense if it cannot prioritize the human rights and security needs of the people involved in this conflict.
Bringing Hamas to negotiating table
At the same time, it is crucial to understand that a durable political solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is possible only by bringing Hamas to the negotiating table. Designated as a terrorist organization by the US and several EU countries, Hamas had shown initial sign of moderation when it participated in 2006 legislative elections in the Palestinian territories. In the 2006 election manifesto, it dropped the call for the destruction of Israel for the first time. It is still far from recognizing Israel, but its stance has evolved over the years. Hamas has not given up armed resistance, but it offered a lasting ceasefire if Israel accepts the 1967 borders. Despite winning 74 out of 132 seats and forming a government in 2006, Hamas continued to face international opposition. In 2017, it further moderated the radical language of its original charter by removing anti-Semitic statements from it. With timely mediation, these positive gestures could have opened a new leaf in Israel-Palestine relations. However, the opportunity was lost as the US and European countries did not move beyond their interest-based approach and self-imposed no-contact policy with Hamas.
The latest ceasefire provides yet another chance for the global community to find a durable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The international community cannot escape its burden in a conflict that ensued following the UN general assembly vote in 1947 that partitioned the Palestinian territories into two separate states. The time to stop the endless cycle of violence in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories is running out. It is critical to remember that each time history repeats itself, the price goes up.
(The author is an Assistant Professor at Manipal Center for European Studies, MAHE, Karnataka. She has a Doctorate from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)