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Opinion

A Hamas-Israel Cease-Fire, Perhaps?

Destruction of a residential block in the Al-Shaboura neighborhood in the city of Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip. Credit: UN News/Ziad Taleb - While the international consensus and world public opinion are resoundingly clear in demanding an immediate cease-fire to the Hamas-Israel war, it remains uncertain whether a cease-fire will be observed

Destruction of a residential block in the Al-Shaboura neighborhood in the city of Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip. Credit: UN News/Ziad Taleb

PORTLAND, USA, Apr 9 2024 (IPS) - While the international consensus and world public opinion are resoundingly clear in demanding an immediate cease-fire to the Hamas-Israel war, it remains uncertain whether a cease-fire will be observed.

On 7 October 2023, Hamas attacked Israel resulting in approximately 1,200 deaths and 240 hostages taken. Nearly ten weeks after the attack with thousands of Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on 12 December 2023 aimed at addressing the Hamas-Israel war.

The resolution demanded an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza, parties’ compliance with international law and the release of all hostages taken by Hamas. The vote was 153 countries in favor to 23 abstentions and 10 against (Table 1).

 

Source: United Nations.

 

Several months after the UN General Assembly cease-fire resolution and nearly six months after the 7 October 2023 attack, the United Nations Security Council adopted after several failed attempts its first cease-fire resolution on 25 March 2024, which many world leaders welcomed. All 14 council members voted for Security Council Resolution 2728 (2024) with the United States abstaining.

The resolution demands an immediate cease-fire to come into effect for the month of Ramadan, which is from 11 March to 9 April 2024. The resolution also calls for the unconditional release of all hostages and ensuring humanitarian access with urgent need to expand the flow of aid into Gaza.

World opinion on the Hamas-Israel war and the need for an immediate cease-fire are clearly reflected in the UN General Assembly vote on 12 December 2023. The proportion of countries in favor of that UN resolution was 82 percent, representing 90 percent of the world’s population. The proportion of the countries opposed to the resolution was 5 percent, representing 5 percent of the world’s population but 0.9 percent of the world’s population when the United States was excluded

On 28 March, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an order calling on Israel to allow unimpeded access for humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, which the United Nations warned was on the verge of famine. With malnutrition among children soaring, the World Food Programme (WFP) said Israel needed to “surge” humanitarian relief into Gaza or there would be starvation.

The ICJ acknowledged that Israel has engineered a famine in Gaza. The judges unanimously delivered a legally binding ruling that Israel should “take all necessary and effective measures to ensure, without delay … the unhindered provision … of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” in Gaza. The ICJ’s ruling is part of the increasing worldwide pressure pushing Israel to do more to address the humanitarian crisis and looming famine in Gaza.

The order of the ICJ came following a case brought by South Africa that accuses Israel of state-stationed genocide in Gaza. Consistent with the ICJ decision, a Federal Court in the United States has also ruled that Israel’s military campaign in Gaza may amount to genocide.

Earlier, on 24 January 2024, various international organizations demanded an immediate cease-fire to the Hamas-Israel war. Among those organizations were humanitarian agencies, human rights groups, faith-based groups, and United Nations officials, including Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Médecins du Monde International Network, Mennonite Central Committee, Oxfam and Save the Children.

Those organizations also called on all states to halt the transfer of weapons that can be employed to commit violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

The Palestinian group Hamas is reported to have welcomed the Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. In a statement, Hamas said that it was committed to the conditions of the resolution.

Hamas added that it affirms readiness to engage in immediate prisoner swaps on both sides and noted that Israel must be held accountable in adhering to the Security Council resolution. Also, a Hamas official stressed the necessity of reaching a permanent ceasefire that would lead to a return of the displaced and Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.

The Israeli government condemned the recent Security Council vote and said the resolution undermines the efforts to secure the release of captives in Gaza. Senior Israeli officials indicated that they would ignore the call for a cease-fire and have set their aim of “total victory”.

Also, Israel’s foreign minister said that despite the Security Council resolution, Israel will not cease fire in the Gaza Strip. He added that Israel aims to destroy Hamas and intends to continue fighting until all the hostages taken on 7 October are returned to their homes.

In addition, Israel’s prime minister stated that the army would press ahead with its offensive against Rafah, the city in southern tip of Gaza where approximately 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are estimated to be sheltering.

Also recently at an Israeli cabinet meeting, the prime minister declared that Israel is “one step away from victory” in winning the war with Hamas and vowed that there would be no truce until Hamas frees all hostages.

Many countries, including the United States, have warned Israel about its proposed large-scale ground offensive in Rafah due to its severe humanitarian consequences and concerns about safeguarding innocent Palestinians seeking refuge there.

World opinion on the Hamas-Israel war and the need for an immediate cease-fire are clearly reflected in the UN General Assembly vote on 12 December 2023. The proportion of countries in favor of that UN resolution was 82 percent, representing 90 percent of the world’s population. The proportion of the countries opposed to the resolution was 5 percent, representing 5 percent of the world’s population but 0.9 percent of the world’s population when the United States was excluded (Figure 1).

 

Source: United Nations.

 

Moreover, a Eurotrack survey conducted in November 2023 across seven Western European countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK – reported that most Europeans, between 55 to 73 percent, thought that Israel should stop its military campaign and call a ceasefire. In Germany, for example, nearly 70 percent of Germans surveyed felt that Israel’s military actions were not justifiable.

Also importantly, a March national poll in the United States found a solid majority of Americans, 55 percent, disapprove of Israel’s military actions. An earlier national survey in November reported that the majority of Americans, 68 percent, thought that Israel should call a cease-fire and try to negotiate the Hamas-Israel war, which has ballooned into a humanitarian crisis. That proportion, two-thirds of US voters, continued to hold in a national survey in February.

Despite the opposition by the majority of Americans to Israel’s war actions and calls for a cease-fire, the Biden administration has “quietly” authorized arms shipments to Israel. Those shipments include more than 1,800 MK84 2,000-pound bombs and 500 MK82 500-pound bombs, as well as 25 F-35A fighter jets and engines worth approximately $2.5 billion.

Biden’s critics believe he has been too closely aligned with the Israeli government. They are troubled by America’s complicity in the moral issue surrounding the war, which has left the US administration morally compromised and upholding a blatant double standard on human rights.

Moreover, they criticized the US president for not taking stronger steps to promote a cease-fire and to assist the Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

Mainly due Israel’s intense aerial bombardment, more than 70 percent of the homes in Gaza have been destroyed and more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed, two-thirds of them women and children. In addition, more than 75,000 Palestinians have been wounded and most Palestinians living in Gaza have been displaced and are living in squalid camps with little food, water and fuel.

Those vocal criticisms of US policies have created difficulties for Biden in protest votes in a number of state primaries across the country as well as posing risks for his reelection campaign.

Even within Israel, growing numbers of Israelis are saying that a cease-fire is the best way to save Israeli captives being held by Hamas. Some also don’t believe that the goals of the war can be achieved and feel that the killing of innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza jeopardizes Israel’s long-term security.

In a recent development following the adoption of the UN Security Council’s cease-fire resolution, the United States played down the resolution, asserting that it is not legally binding. Consequently, according to the Biden administration, the resolution has no impact on Israel’s ability to continue its war with Hamas and the US will continue its flows of weapons and arms to Israel.

However, many countries as well as international law experts have affirmed that all Security Council resolutions are binding and mandatory. Also, the United Nations has said that all resolutions of the Security Council are international law and therefore are binding as international laws. The UN Secretary-General remarked that the resolution must be implemented and failure would be unforgivable.

As the Hamas-Israel war enters its seventh month, some in Israel, including officials in the current Israeli government, which is a right-wing coalition including religious nationalists, believe that it will be a long slog of ongoing warfare ahead.

However, anti-government protests across Israeli cities are urging the government to reach a cease-fire deal to free all the hostages held in Gaza by Hamas and to hold early elections. Many of the protesting families of hostages believe time is running out for the hostages taken on 7 October and are expressing their displeasure with the prime minister’s handling of the war after six months in Gaza.

In a recent development relating to news reporting on the war, the Israeli prime minister, with overwhelming support in the Knesset, said that he plans to “act immediately” on a new Israeli law that gives senior government officials power to shutter foreign news networks located in Israel for national security purposes. Press freedom experts warned that the shuttering of Al Jazeera could set a dangerous precedent in Israel.

The Hamas-Israel war has now entered its seventh month. Tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed, injured, displaced and scores of hostages remain held captive in Gaza.

Also, one week after the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire, release of hostages and expanded aid into Gaza, Israeli military strikes on an approved aid convoy run by the charity group World Central Kitchen (WCK) killed seven of its employees in Gaza.

Since the 7 October 2023 attack on Israel, Gaza has been the deadliest place for aid workers with a total of 224 humanitarian aid workers killed in the Hamas-Israel war.

The most recent attack on the WCK convoy is also setting back attempts by various countries and aid groups to address the hunger crisis of Palestinians in Gaza. The deadly incident on the food aid convoy has also contributed to Israel’s mounting international isolation.

Many countries, including Australia, Britain and the United States, condemned the attack on the WCK food aid convoy that resulted in the deaths of seven of its workers and demanded explanations from Israel with some Western leaders joining WCK in calling for an independent investigation because they believe “the perpetrator cannot be investigating himself.”

Also, in a recent television interview aired in the US, the distressed head of WCK said, “This doesn’t seem anymore a war about defending Israel. This really, at this point, seems it’s a war against humanity itself.”

US President Biden was reported to be “outraged” by the attack on the WCK food aid convoy calling it “unacceptable”. He said that Israel has not done enough to protect civilians in Gaza, emphasized the need for an immediate cease-fire and for the Israeli government to conclude a deal without delay to bring the hostages home.

In addition, in a recent phone conversation with the Israeli prime minister, the American president indicated that if Israel doesn’t change course in Gaza, “we won’t be able to support you”.

One result of that exchange was Israel’s decision to open the port of Ashdod and the Erez crossing in northern Gaza. However, Israel has yet to indicate when and what kind of aid will be permitted into Gaza.

The international consensus and world public opinion regarding the Hamas-Israel war, which has become one of the most destructive, deadly and intractable conflicts of the 21st century, are abundantly clear.

Nevertheless, whether the UN Security Council Resolution 2728 on the Hamas-Israel war will achieve its primary aims of an immediate cease-fire, the unconditional release of all hostages and the urgent need to expand the flow of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, remains an open question but with some hopeful signs.

 

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Population Levels, Trends, and Differentials”.

 

 
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