China Daily

Israel should  negotiate in good faith

The fierce international criticism of the civilian losses caused by its military campaign in Gaza, the looming uncertainties with the approach of US presidential election, as well as the domestic anger over the Benjamin Netanyahu government’s inability to have the hostages held by Hamas released should all spur Tel Aviv to cherish the opportunity of negotiations, albethey indirect, with Hamas in Qatar.

Late last week, Hamas presented a new cease-fire plan to end the conflict in Gaza that includes the release of Israeli captives in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in the hope that it would be a three-phased truce, with each stage lasting 42 days. Although the Netanyahu government called it “unrealistic”, it has still sent negotiators to Doha.

That the Joe Biden administration still backs the Netanyahu government suggests that the talks will not be fruitful. Secretary of State Antony Blinken commenting on Israel’s proposed Rafah offensive on Friday even said that the US needed to see a “clear and implementable plan”, which includes getting civilians “out of harm’s way”. That has led to speculation that Tel Aviv’s approval on Friday of a plan for a ground offensive against Rafah, a city in the south of the Gaza Strip, where at least 1.4 million Palestinian refugees have taken shelter, is just a bluff to give a leverage to its negotiation team in the talks with Hamas, via mediators of Qatar and Egypt, on Monday.

That seems unlikely. Netanyahu told the media that a potential peace agreement with the Palestinians “that makes Israel so weak and unable to defend itself” would “set peace backward and not forward”, indicating as long as he is kept in the post bringing back the hostages is only a secondary goal of the ongoing offensive, and his objective is to enable Israel to have control over the region where Palestinians live. That’s why, after the Oct 7 Hamas attack on Israel, he has repeatedly railed against the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, arguing it would be a reward for “terrorism”, though much of the international community endorses the idea as the only lasting solution.

Notably, as reported, some of the issues related to the negotiations will still need to be weighed and approved by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. That means the Netanyahu government will hold a wait-and-see attitude on the talks, presenting it with a means to vent off pressure. What it remains open to is not a cease-fire, or peace based on the two-state solution, but how much progress it can make in getting the hostages released, and more importantly the extent to which it can consolidate and fix its gains as future strategic assets of Israel.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz certainly considers a ground offensive against Rafah a distinct possibility. In his statement after meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday, Scholz said pointedly: “Terrorism cannot be stopped by military means alone, political activity is also needed.”

Other Western countries, including the Netherlands and Australia, which resumed its support for the United Nations’ aid system in Gaza last week, also expressed similar points of view, telling Tel Aviv enough is enough. US Republican Senate leader Chuck Schumer even called for Israel to hold new elections, sparking an angry pushback from Netanyahu’s Likud Party, which said Israel “is not a banana republic”.

For the Netanyahu government, therefore, the negotiations with Hamas appear to be a window of opportunity to prepare for the implementation of the Rafah campaign, the last strong foothold of Hamas in Gaza, rather than what they should be: an opportunity to find a way to end the conflict and put a stop to the rising death toll and worsening humanitarian crisis there.

Editorial, China Daily

Categories China Daily Opinion