INTERNATIONAL efforts are under way to consolidate the ceasefire that ended the recent violence between Israel and the Palestinians. The hope also is to seek a way towards a renewed peace process; but the prospects for progress seem limited.
The renewed diplomatic engagement comes as the region starts to recover from the trauma of the latest conflict. More than 250 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the clashes in the Holy Land.
Egypt, which played a leading part in brokering the truce between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Israel, called on both sides to stop all practices that lead to escalation. The Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister, Sameh Shoukry, after talks in Cairo with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, said that both sides should “take into account the special sensitivity associated with East Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, and all Islamic and Christian holy sites”.
The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who flew to the region in the aftermath of the violence, said that the priority was dealing with “the immediate needs of people and then taking the necessary steps that I think can create better conditions in which we can try to move forward on two states”.
The call for movement on the diplomatic front was echoed by the UN Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland. Addressing the UN Security Council, he said that “these recent events have made clear once again the costs of perpetual conflict and lost hope.” He continued: “Only through negotiations that end the occupation and create a viable two-state solution . . . can we hope to bring a definitive end to these senseless and costly cycles of violence.”
All attempts thus far at finding a diplomatic solution have reached an impasse. As a writer in the magazine The New Yorker said: “It is easy to mistake an impasse for stability.” While the current ceasefire lasts, “there will be even less reason than before to confuse that state of quiet with peace.”
It is difficult to see a way forward. Israel is still trying to untangle itself from a prolonged political crisis. The Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank is weak, and commands little popular respect. Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, at odds with the PA, is off limits for US diplomats because it has been designated a terrorist group.
The head of Middle East for Christian Aid, William Bell, said that, as the fighting was coming to an end, a new approach was needed. “If we are serious about a just peace, then we need to recognise both Israel and Palestine as equals. We don’t need to hate one side and love the other. But we do need to be prepared to hear and learn some uncomfortable truths.”
In the view of the Palestinian Christian commentator Daoud Kuttab, writing in the newspaper Arab News, an essential first step is for the main world powers, including the UK, to recognise the state of Palestine. These powers should then encourage Palestine and Israel to negotiate “in the presence of honest, neutral brokers on how to manage the relationship between these two. Issues such as settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, and settlers need to be agreed — not whether the state of Palestine should even exist.”