17 January 2022

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WHILE GUNS WERE SILENT…

How long will the fragile ceasefire in the long-standing Palestinian-Israeli conflict continue?

Author:

01.06.2021

The next Palestinian-Israeli war seems to be over. After 11 days of bloodshed, the parties reached ceasfire. However, mutual enmity is so strong, and the most painful Middle East conflict is so complicated that the whole world is now wondering how long the current Palestinian-Israeli peace will last.

 

Victims and ceasefire 11 days later

The recent war in the Holy Land claimed the lives of hundreds of people. More than 270 Palestinians, including 70 children and 40 women, and at least 12 Israelis, including two children, were killed as a result of Israeli strikes against Palestinian territories and rocket attacks on Israeli settlements from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The bloodshed was stopped thanks to the growing pressure from the international community. Thanks to the mediation of Egypt, it was possible to get the conflicting parties agree on ceasefire starting from May 21 without any preconditions. There were still clashes between the Palestinians and the Israeli police in Jerusalem on that day, but the following days showed that the truce was tangible.

At the same time, each of the parties declared its victory. Hamas believes that the project of "coexistence" with Israel ultimately collapsed, while Israel expresses satisfaction with its military operation, claiming to have the military infrastructure of Hamas, including underground tunnels, bunkers and headquarters, almost completely destroyed.

But in he current situation, when peace cost the lives of hundreds of people, these mutually exclusive assessments are not important. Ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas was highly appreciated by the entire international community, including the powers involved in the Middle East settlement processes for more than a decade. The US, the European Union, Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, Arab countries express their interest in a long-term ceasefire between Palestine and Israel, urge the implementation of a lasting settlement of the conflict. Despite serious contradictions in the positions of global power centres, they recognise the possibility of establishing long-term peace.

However, what is the real prospect of achieving the long-standing peace, given that the deep enmity between the conflicting parties requires external forces to play an instrumental role in the implementation of a comprehensive peace project in the Holy Land?

Admittedly, the United States is the main actor influencing on the situation in the Middle East. Therefore, both the Israelis and Palestinians are so sensitive to the signals coming from Washington. Especially nowadays. After all, the new Biden administration is demonstrating its intention to pursue a new Middle Eastern policy that in many respects is different from what the White House used under President Donald Trump.

Will the US and other global stakeholders be able to promote the principle of "two states"?

Under President Trump, the US has taken a number of explicit pro-Israeli steps that ran counter to the UN position, including the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the right of the latter to build Jewish settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan River, and the declaration of the Golan Heights an Israeli territory. Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s intention is to return to the policy once followed by his predecessor Barack Obama. While the US once again blocked the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution contrary to Israeli interests during the latest armed confrontation between Israel and Palestine, thereby reaffirming the "right to self-defense" for its Middle Eastern ally, the Biden administration makes it clear that they are dissatisfied with the large number of casualties among the civilian Palestinian population. As to the final settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Washington supports the implementation of the ‘two states for two peoples’ formula and believes that it has no alternative as far as the solution of the long-standing conflict is concerned.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said bluntly that “The United States remains committed to the two-state principle, which will end the violence. This is the only way to secure the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, as well as to enable the Palestinians to find their own state, which they deserve." In other words, Washington believes that the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be possible only if each country gets its own state.

Meanwhile, President Biden announced the US intention to work with the UN to provide urgent humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. The White House makes it clear that the US's Middle East interest is broader than just unequivocal support for Israel. That without the realisation of the Palestinians' right to create their own state, the Americans risk of facing increasingly growing challenges in the Islamic community, inappropriate in the context of the strategy to maintain the global leadership of the United States.

Meanwhile, one car observe the revival of ‘warm’ tones in the statements of the leadership of the Palestinian National Authority, which has practically ceased to contact the White House since Donald Trump. Ramallah praised "the efforts made by Egypt, Qatar and Jordan, as well as the US, EU and UN administrations" to set ceasefire between Israel and Palestine. At the same time, it was emphasized that "the time has come for the US administration and the entire international community to take serious practical steps to stop the Israeli crimes against the people of Palestine."

In other words, the Palestinians once again recognise the United States as the main negotiator on the Middle East. But how does the US, which advocates the creation of "two states for two peoples", intend to contribute to solving the key problems of the conflict, such as the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Jewish settlements? What can we expect from the reconciliation process initiated between Israel and the Arab countries by the previous White House administration, which attached great importance to it in terms of shaping a new geopolitical image of the Middle East?

Last year, through the mediation of the US, Israel signed a set of peace agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. Thus, a number of Arab countries abandoned the policy of non-recognition and denial of Israel, and agreed to cooperation with the Jewish state. Moreover, they all expressed a similar position, while it was bluntly rejected by many forces within the Islamic world, including the Palestinians themselves. Obviously, these countries allowed the Trump administration to persuade themselves and agreed for rapprochement with Israel largely because of fears of the growing influence of Iran and Muslim movements close to their borders – forces especially hostile to the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf.

Now the Arab countries, which agreed to develop cooperation with Israel, find themselves in an ambiguous position. On the one hand, they do not want to lose the benefits of the cooperation with Israel, including in trade, tourism and health care. But on the other hand, the progress of the reconciliation process harms the image of these countries in the Muslim world, which outrageously blames Israel for the numerous Palestinian victims in the Gaza Strip, as well as the violation of the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem during the 11-day war.

It is unlikely to expect that, say, the UAE or Bahrain agree to curtail the emerging partnership with Israel. However, as a result of the recent war, their further rapprochement with the Jewish state, not to mention the conclusion of new Abraham Accords between Israel and other Arab countries, is practically impossible. At least, in the near future.

At the same time, it is obvious that the leading Arab countries, similar to the US, will insist on the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict according to the "two states for two peoples" formula. This was clearly indicated, in particular, by the King of Jordan Abdullah, who expressed his hope for transforming the ceasefire in Gaza into a long-term truce due to a lack of alternatives to this approach.

This is also the intention of the European Union, despite a certain split between its member states, which hold on a predominantly pro-Palestinian position in the Middle Eastern conflict, like most EU members, or a pro-Israeli position, such as Hungary or Austria.

We can therefore assume that the West led by the US, as well as other leading centres of power, including Russia and China, will push through the idea of an early settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the above-mentioned principle. The only question is what the content of discussions on the most urging problems of the settlement will be? Will the attempts to restart the reconciliation process resemble a broken record, meaninglessly jumping up and down at the most interesting moment?

Answers to these questions are of crucial importance for the peoples of Palestine and Israel, since the ceasefire is very fragile amid the declared readiness of both Israel and Hamas to re-start the war at any moment. The Holy Land seems to standstill in anticipation...



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