Build on Gaza truce for peace in West Asia - Hindustan Times
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Build on Gaza truce for peace in West Asia

Nov 25, 2023 10:53 PM IST

Ending forever wars is never going to be easy. India could play a role if both sides want.

The announcement of a “humanitarian pause” and the release of the first batch of 13 Israeli hostages is welcome news. In return, Israel has promised to release 39 Palestinian prisoners. This is part of a deal that will involve the release of 50 Israeli hostages in return for 150 Palestinians over four days. Is this the beginning of the end of the conflict? Will the confidence generated encourage an extension of the “pause” and further release of hostages? Or, will hostilities resume once the swap of hostages and prisoners is over? The peace is extremely tenuous.

Smoke billows after an Israeli strike on Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 23, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP) PREMIUM
Smoke billows after an Israeli strike on Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 23, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)

The announcement of a “humanitarian pause” and the release of the first batch of 13 Israeli hostages is welcome news. In return, Israel has promised to release 39 Palestinian prisoners. This is part of a deal that will involve the release of 50 Israeli hostages in return for 150 Palestinians over four days. Is this the beginning of the end of the conflict? Will the confidence generated encourage an extension of the “pause” and further release of hostages? Or, will hostilities resume once the swap of hostages and prisoners is over? The peace is extremely tenuous.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised that war will continue till Hamas’s military capacity is degraded. To begin with, this was too broad an objective. The killing of 14,000 Palestinians and mass displacement of the population has probably won the organisation more recruits. The conflict has brought the Palestinian issue back to the centre stage in West Asia.

The hostage deal was brokered by Qatar with nudging by the United States (US). There were intense back-channel negotiations. Qatar’s role in negotiations is central. Qatar has hosted the political wing of Hamas headed by Ismail Haniyeh. Hamas is allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is very unpopular with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The two key elements of the package, the humanitarian pause and release of the hostages, were sanctioned by the UN Security Council, which adopted resolution 2712 on November 15.

The resolution moved by Malta was adopted by a vote of 12 in favour to none against, with three abstentions (Russia, the United Kingdom, and the US). Malta being a member of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization is unlikely to have taken a major initiative like this without consulting the US. China, which had aligned its position with Russia on earlier drafts, voted in support of the resolution while Russia (and the US) abstained. China is the president of the Security Council during the month. A likely explanation for China’s subdued position was that the adoption of the resolution coincided with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit between President Biden and Xi Jinping.

Israel’s window of legitimacy is closing fast. The US secretary of state Antony Blinken said that “far too many Palestinians have been killed”. On the other hand, the Hamas strategy seems to be to prolong the conflict. Fortunately, the war has so far remained confined to Israel and Hamas. Iran’s foreign minister Amirabdollahian told the Financial Times that “Iran does not want the war to spread”.

Earlier, Hezbollah chief Nasrullah stated that the Hamas strike of October 7 was “the result of a 100% Palestinian decision”. This distanced both Hezbollah and Iran from Hamas’s actions. These two statements, together with the improvement of Saudi Arabia-Iran relations have helped moderate the oil prices so far.

The meeting of the OPEC+ on the weekend is expected to endorse production cuts. Saudi Arabia and Russia are the key players in the cartel’s decision-making. Their actions may be driven by their interest in keeping prices high. After the initial hike, the oil prices have come down to $80 per barrel. But there is also a political compulsion. Saudi Arabia has to show that it is taking action against the US interests. The US’s unstinted support for Israel has a political cost. If the war drags on, this could weaken the Palestinian Authority (PA), which Israel and the US seem to be banking on to administer Gaza. President Mahmoud Abbas told Blinken that PA would only assume power in Gaza as part of a “comprehensive political solution”.

If the war drags on, this could weaken the Palestinian Authority which Israel and the US seem to be banking upon to provide future administration in Gaza. President Mahmoud Abbas told Secretary of State Blinken that PA would only assume power in Gaza as part of a ‘comprehensive political solution’. A two-State solution is the way out. A demilitarized Gaza under Palestinian control could answer Israel’s security needs. There has to be a rollback of settlements in the West Bank. A commentator James Dorsey quoted an Israeli study that 80% of the Jewish population is in settlements which form 4% of the territory, and are close to the pre-1967 borders. A political settlement with a small land swap is possible. This no doubt entails difficult choices. But ending forever wars is never going to be easy. India could play a role if both sides want.

DP Srivastava is a former ambassador to Iran. The views expressed are personal

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