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War on Gaza: Why Hamas cannot accept Israel's ceasefire proposal

Contrary to Biden's portrayal of the deal, it does not guarantee an end to the war, nor a full withdrawal of Israeli forces
Israeli army tanks are deployed near the Gaza Strip on 5 June 2024 (Jack Guez/AFP)
Israeli army tanks are deployed near the Gaza Strip on 5 June 2024 (Jack Guez/AFP)

If anyone owns the daily carnage in Gaza being carried out by an angry and humiliated Israeli army, whose ranks are filled with religious settlers, it is US President Joe Biden.

From the first days after the Hamas attack on 7 October, Biden framed this savage act of collective punishment on 2.3 million Palestinians as a just war.

It was he who led the charge that Israel had the right to defend itself. It was he who sabotaged calls for an immediate ceasefire at the UN Security Council. It was he who replenished Israel’s stocks of smart bombs and missiles.

And it is under his watch that the US turned its back on the two highest courts of international justice.

Last week, Biden told Time Magazine: “The [International Criminal Court] is something that we don’t, we don’t recognise.” You have to blink twice before rereading. It is really Biden talking, not former President Donald Trump.

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The known death toll is approaching 40,000 people, and thousands more bodies could be under the rubble. More than half of all structures in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged, along with its hospitals, universities, schools, shelters, sewage systems, and agricultural land. Israel has now dropped more bombs on Gaza in eight months than were dropped on London, Dresden and Hamburg during the six years of the Second World War.

The first, second and a good part of the third ranks of civilian administrators of Gaza have been killed, Palestinian sources close to Hamas told me in Doha. Gaza could take decades to recover from this assault. 

Fews Net, the US-based famine early warning system network, said it was “possible, if not likely” that famine began in northern Gaza in April. According to UN estimates, more than one million people were “expected to face death and starvation” by mid-July.

'Red line' in Rafah

It is not for nothing that a coalition of Democrats - Arab, Muslim and student voters - in swing states are considering riding the next four years out under Trump to achieve the ultimate goal of ensuring that Biden is their party’s last Zionist president.

Biden has made two attempts to apply the brakes to the campaign being waged by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man whom the US president himself has suggested is pursuing this war out of personal political interest.

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The first was his threat to stop the supply of heavy bombs if Netanyahu went ahead with his operation in Rafah. Netanyahu nonetheless went ahead with the operation to seize the Rafah crossing and reoccupy the Philadelphi Corridor. His army is in eastern Rafah and is bombing the western part continually. 

In early May Biden declared a “major invasion” of Rafah would be a red line. What then happened to this threat, after one million Palestinians have fled Rafah?

When asked how many charred bodies from Israeli air strikes Biden has to see before acting on his threat, White House spokesperson John Kirby floundered in reply.

Biden appears to be forcing Netanyahu's hand by making an offer he wanted to keep under wraps explicit and public, when in reality something quite different is happening

“How does this not violate the red line that the president laid out?” asked Ed O’Keefe, political correspondent for CBS. “As I said, we don’t want to see a major ground operation,” Kirby blathered.

But that is just it. You are seeing one, Mr Kirby. 

Netanyahu clearly saw Biden’s threat for what it was - bluster - and acted accordingly.

Biden gave a second performance of his party piece in confronting Israel last Friday. Out of the blue and to the obvious discomfort of the Israeli war cabinet, the US president publicly announced that he was throwing Washington’s weight behind a “full and complete ceasefire”, casting it as an Israeli offer to Hamas. 

A few weeks earlier, Hamas had signed a ceasefire document under the gaze of, and with the full approval of, CIA director Bill Burns, which detailed exactly that. But the Israeli cabinet walked away from it, and the US meekly followed, calling the signed agreement a Hamas “counteroffer”.

The truth emerges

So if what Biden said a week ago was indeed him throwing his weight behind an identical proposal, it would have been progress.

Here is what Biden said a week ago: “I know there are those in Israel who will not agree with this plan and will call for the war to continue indefinitely. Some are even in the government coalition. And they’ve made it clear: They want to occupy Gaza, they want to keep fighting for years, and the hostages are not a priority to them. Well, I’ve urged the leadership in Israel to stand behind this deal, despite whatever pressure comes.

“And to the people of Israel, let me say this …  I ask you to take a step back and think what will happen if this moment is lost. We can’t lose this moment. Indefinite war in pursuit of an unidentified notion of ‘total victory’ … will only bog down Israel in Gaza, draining the economic, military and human resources, and furthering Israel’s isolation in the world.”

Israeli ceasefire proposal does not guarantee Gaza war will end
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These words could have been said with as much force eight months ago, but at last, they were being said now.

Biden’s speech threw the war cabinet into confusion for 48 hours. Netanyahu issued two apparently contradictory statements.

And then the truth emerged: Biden’s description of the three-stage ceasefire deal did not match the document the cabinet had signed off on in several critical places.

 Most importantly, the deal, published here, does not offer a “full and complete ceasefire”.

Biden said in his speech that after the first phase of hostage and prisoner release ended, the ceasefire would hold while negotiations on the second phase continued.

The text says something quite different. The key section, paragraph 14, is worth quoting in full: “All procedures in this [first] stage including the temporary cessation of military operations by both sides, aid and shelter effort, withdrawal of forces, etc., will continue in stage 2 so long as the negotiations on the conditions for implementing stage 2 of this agreement are ongoing. The guarantors of this agreement shall make every effort to ensure that those indirect negotiations continue until both sides are able to reach agreement on the conditions for implementing stage 2 of this agreement.”

“Make every effort?” None of this binds Israel to continue with the second stage if negotiations fail. And if they fail, Israel goes back to war. 

Waving a white flag

The second major difference is that the timeline for Palestinians to be able to return to their homes in northern Gaza has been put back. This means, in theory, that if there is no agreement on phase two, war could resume without time for the population to move.

The text also marks a departure from previous deals in that Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist group in the UK and other countries, has lost much of its say on which prisoners Israel would release in exchange for the return of hostages. Israel now demands a veto on a group of 100 prisoners who comprise the leadership of the main Palestinian resistance groups.

This is targeted at people like the popular Fatah leader and potential presidential candidate, Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences.

Once again, Biden appears to be forcing Netanyahu’s hand by making an offer he wanted to keep under wraps explicit and public, when in reality something quite different is happening. 

US President Joe Biden announces a proposed ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza at the White House on 31 May 2024 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)
US President Joe Biden announces a proposed ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, at the White House on 31 May 2024 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Once again, Biden is serving Israel’s bottom line. He has cemented Israel’s bottom line throughout these negotiations. Just as he allowed a major ground offensive against Rafah to proceed, Biden is supporting Israel’s right to continue the war after an initial release of hostages and prisoners.

On this, Netanyahu is right: the text does not support Biden’s contention that the ceasefire would be “full and complete”.

For Hamas leaders to sign a document like this would mean putting their hands in the air, emerging from their tunnels and waving a big white flag. And we all know what happens to people who wave white flags. 

The deal would not guarantee an end to the war, a withdrawal of Israeli forces, or a return of more than one million displaced Palestinians to their homes. Eight months of war would have been for nothing.

Weakening Biden

And as I recently reported, Hamas is in no mood to do this. Rightly or wrongly, it feels it is winning the battle of wills in Gaza. It thinks the Israeli army is on the ropes.

Hamas acknowledges the destruction and havoc wreaked above ground, but it is confident of its ability to function for months to come underground.

Having signed one document which was presented as a deal by Egyptian and Qatari negotiators, Hamas is in no mood to deviate from the text. It “reacted positively” to Biden’s speech, but I understand from Palestinian sources that it regards the text of Israel’s offer as a non-starter. 

Full text of Israel's Gaza ceasefire proposal that was announced by Biden
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One said: “Hamas is now challenging Biden to put what he said in his address into the text of the offer. They want it in writing. They want a guarantee that once the hostage and prisoner exchange starts, the war will be over.”

Quite demonstratively, there are large gaps between Biden’s description of the ceasefire deal, and the ceasefire deal itself. They are two different things.

It is equally clear now, that the closer the presidential election comes, the weaker Biden will become. 

Far from winding down the Rafah operation, the Israeli army is preparing to open a second front in Lebanon. This is another of Biden’s “red lines”, which Netanyahu feels increasingly emboldened to challenge. 

Netanyahu is playing for time. He is outmanoeuvring Biden, hoping that he needs only to keep the war going until Trump comes along to save him. The longer this game drags on, the weaker Biden becomes.

Major miscalculation

That weakness will be on display for all Americans to see when Netanyahu addresses both houses of Congress, posing as a hero of the Judeo-Christian world. That speech will not be rhetorical. 

It will be an event that will cast a long, dark shadow over the US as a world power. It will live on in infamy for a long time to come. 

The most extreme government in Israel’s history, a government in the dock for genocide and war crimes, will reaffirm its vice-like grip over the US political elite. 

Fundamentally, however, Israel is making a huge miscalculation, and one it has always made. 

The idea that the Palestinian conflict will vanish without an honourable settlement and a just return of refugees to their lands, alongside full political rights, is just Zionist dreamland

It has always preferred to deal with Arab leaders rather than addressing the real problem: the Palestinian people themselves. But its conflict is not with Hamas, nor Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Its conflict is with the Palestinian people themselves.

After every battle, Israel seems to think the Palestinians will surrender - and yet, every war creates a more determined leadership. Every family whose members have been killed by Israeli forces is an exponential pool of brothers and sons and grandchildren who survive, and whose only mission in life is to seek revenge.

Palestine is not Andalusia in the 14th century, on the fringes of the Muslim world. It lies at the centre of the Arab and Muslim world. The idea that the Palestinian conflict will vanish without an honourable settlement and a just return of refugees to their lands, alongside full political rights, is just Zionist dreamland.

The biggest delusion in the theory that a nation can function in a perpetual state of war is not Biden’s. It is Israel’s, and this delusion has spelt the end of more than one settler-colonial project. It is certainly enough to spell the end of the apartheid state in the not-too-distant future. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

David Hearst is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He is a commentator and speaker on the region and analyst on Saudi Arabia. He was the Guardian's foreign leader writer, and was correspondent in Russia, Europe, and Belfast. He joined the Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.
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