A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas must allow both sides to claim a win

·3 min read
Smoke rises after Israeli army carried out attacks over buildings in Rafah, Gaza on May 18  - Anadolu
Smoke rises after Israeli army carried out attacks over buildings in Rafah, Gaza on May 18 - Anadolu

US President Joe Biden’s call for a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants appeared to go unheeded on Tuesday as the Israeli military said it would continue striking Gaza.

As international calls for a truce grow, analysts say the key to a ceasefire lies in finding a formula that enables both Israel and Hamas – the militant group that controls Gaza – to claim victory.

After a week of fighting –which has now far killed 213 Palestinians in Gaza and 12 people in Israel – President Biden “expressed support for a ceasefire” during his second phone call with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three days on Monday.

Mr Biden “encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians”, the White House said in a carefully worded statement on Monday evening, that came after Democrats pressured the president to respond more forcefully after he expressed support for Israel’s right to self-defence on Saturday.

On Tuesday though the Israeli military said it was continuing operations, according to a list of targets in Gaza for the coming 24 hours. "The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) is not talking about a ceasefire. We're focussed on the firing," Israeli military spokesman Hidai Zilberman told Army Radio.

But Israel also announced it would open its main border crossing with Gaza to allow the passage of essential humanitarian aid on Tuesday, which the United Nations hailed as a positive development.

The Kerem Shalom crossing has been closed since last Sunday, restricting the flow of medical supplies and other lifesaving equipment.

An important part of previous ceasefire agreements has been Israel easing its blockade on the Palestinian enclave in return for Hamas halting rocket fire from Gaza.

But reaching a ceasefire this time will be complicated by Hamas demands that Israel halt moves to evict Palestinians from the East Jerusalem of Sheikh Jarrah and keep away from Al Aqsa mosque, two grievances which sparked the latest conflict.

The East Jerusalem mosque is both the third holiest site in Islam and also the holiest site in Judaism, revered as the site of the destoryed temples. Under a delicate status quo Al-Aqsa is administered by Jordan’s religious endowment, but recently Jewish religious groups have challenged restrictions restricting them from praying at the site.

Reaching a ceasefire is “about how each side can claim a win,” said Hugh Lovatt, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“For Hamas they’ll want to say, ‘We’ve defended Palestinian rights in Jerusalem’,” he said. “For Israel they’ll want to show they’ve set Hamas’ military capabilities back a number of years.”

The Israeli military has been highlighting its efforts to degrade Hamas’ military capability, releasing statistics on the Hamas facilities it says it has destroyed and the number of militants it says it has killed. “It’s this Israeli doctrine of ‘mowing the lawn,’” said Mr Lovatt, adding that it did not represent a long-term solution to the conflict.

“The IDF feels that it has already degraded Hamas enough to consider a ceasefire,” said Michael A Horowitz, an Israeli security analyst with Le Beck International. But Mr Netanyahu and Israel’s political leadership is still “searching for an elusive feeling of ‘We won’,” he said.

“I think what the Israeli political leadership want mostly, is several days of low rocket attacks, in parallel to continued high IDF strikes,” he said.

Meanwhile diplomatic pressure is mounting to halt the fighting.

The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on the conflict on Tuesday. The body failed to publish a public statement on Sunday, with the US the sole member not to give support to it.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron was scheduled to meet his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan's King Abdullah II on Tuesday to discuss ways to seek a ceasefire.

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