It was announced near midnight in the early hours of May 21 that a ceasefire and truce had been agreed upon between Israel and Hamas. This brought an end to 11 days of bombardment that had claimed lives of more than 230 people in Gaza, including 61 children and displaced 52,000 persons. It had also led to 12 deaths in Israel. The media has reported that after the ceasefire started, large numbers of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza in cars and on foot to celebrate.
The cease-fire eventually came amid growing global alarm about the bloodshed, with US President Joe Biden urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek de-escalation, and mediation bids by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations. It is understood that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has also dispatched two security delegations to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to work towards upholding the ceasefire. This truce will bring to an end some of the fiercest fighting since 2014, which has caused widespread destruction in Gaza and halted much of daily life in Israel.
Diplomats from Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have mediated intensively with Hamas and Israel, which do not talk to each other directly. This happened within the matrix of growing international pressure to stop the fighting and also the awkward dimension where the Palestinian Authority, a semiautonomous body exercises partial jurisdiction in parts of the occupied territories. Added to this is the fact that Hamas controls Gaza, and is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and many other Western countries.
It may be recalled that Israel captured East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City in June 1967. Its annexation shortly afterwards was never recognised by the international community. Almost 54 years later the city it claims to have reunited has never been more divided. The fighting between Israel and Hamas was triggered by days of escalating clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police near and around Haram al- Sharif in Jerusalem. Hamas demanded Israel remove police from there and the nearby predominantly Arab district of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families face eviction by Jewish settlers. We need to remember that there can also be no pretext that can justify killings of innocent civilians, disruption of prayer by the worshippers, and breach of international humanitarian laws and human rights standards.
It would be interesting to also note here the observations made by media analyst Marwan Bishara. He has critically suggested that "Netanyahu has resorted to all possible means to maintain power, including grooming, empowering and allying with the most fanatic elements of the Israeli society - even more extreme than his extremist Likud party. These are the same ultra-religious "neo-fascists" who in mid-April descended on the Palestinian areas of the city, intimidating, beating, looting, and destroying Palestinian property. Netanyahu helped these racist fanatics organise and unite into the Religious Zionist Party, to ensure they pass the minimum threshold to enter the Knesset and join his planned coalition". Bishara has also noted that while Netanyahu has "thus far failed to form another coalition government, they have succeeded beyond expectations, winning six decisive seats in the new parliament and unleashing a tirade of violent provocations, starting with Jerusalem.
Bangladesh on its part played a proactive role during the evolving fiasco. Bangladesh urged the UN Security Council to work for a durable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions during an open-ended virtual meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Executive Committee .The meeting was convened in response to the repeated attacks of a "terrorist nature" by the Israeli occupation forces on the innocent civilians in Al-Quds Al Shareef, bombing on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound followed by attacks on worshippers, and the eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. In the meeting, Bangladesh endorsed the statement of the OIC group at the United Nations and agreed with the suggestion made in the statement of resumption of the 10th Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly if the Security Council fails to uphold its responsibility. Sheikh Hasina has also expressed "deep sadness and concern about the recent attacks of terrorist nature and violence unleashed on the innocent devotees and civilians at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound."
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has played a significant role in reducing tension and bringing forth the truce. He reiterated and pointed out that "this latest round of violence only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace." He added that "fighting must stop. It must stop immediately." Subsequently, he has welcomed the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, but has also correctly observed that more remains to be done. He wants a return to negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, and has also called for robust humanitarian aid distribution to residents in Gaza. In this context, he has mentioned that "I stress that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have a responsibility beyond the restoration of calm to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict. Gaza is an integral part of the future Palestinian state and no effort should be spared to bring about real national reconciliation that ends the division."
The latest clashes between Israel and the Palestinians have also revealed how much the political centre of gravity in the Democratic Party has moved on this issue in recent years. Today, younger generations in the USA are considerably more sympathetic to the Palestinians and that is evident within the ruling Democratic Party. While President Joe Biden, consistent with the traditional view has repeatedly emphasised that Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks, he appears to have found himself out of step within his party regarding the conditions on the ground for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and Israeli policies that have contributed to their plight. This is partially due also to the left-wing progressive movement led by Vermont democratic socialist Bernie Sanders.
Mr Biden has praised Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for brokering the ceasefire, and also referred to the human cost of the conflict. In this regard he has "sent my sincere condolences to all the families, Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost loved ones and my hope for a full recovery for the wounded." The President has also reiterated that the US "remains committed to working with the United Nations" in providing humanitarian assistance to Gaza and in reconstruction efforts in the enclave. He added that this would be done "in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas".
At this point we have to take note of the fact that the 15-member U.N. Security Council apparently met privately at least twice to discuss ways of reducing tensions. However, efforts to reach agreement on a statement or to hold an open meeting had faced resistance from the United States, Israel's biggest defender on the Council. American officials defended this approach by saying that they wanted mediators to be sent to the region from the United States, Egypt and Qatar to defuse the crisis. However, with violence worsening, a compromise was finally reached for a meeting to be held on May 16.
Later we also witnessed a special session of the UN General Assembly where representatives from different countries vented their views with great emotion.
Palestinian and Israeli diplomats, who spoke at these meetings, used it as a high-profile forum to vent longstanding grievances, in effect talking past each other with no sign of any softening in an intractable conflict nearly as old as the United Nations itself. It was interesting to see Riyad al-Maliki the Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority, implicitly rebuking the United States and other powers that have defended Israel's right to protect itself from Hamas rocket attacks, asserting that such arguments makes Israel "further emboldened to continue to murder entire families in their sleep." Gilad Erdan, Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, who spoke after Mr. Maliki, rejected any attempt to portray the actions of Israel and Hamas as moral equivalents. "Israel uses missiles to protect its children," Mr. Erdan said. "Hamas uses children to protect its missiles."
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations had a nuanced slant. She said President Biden had spoken with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had also been engaging with his counterparts in the region. She also expressed her anxiety about inter-communal violence. It was also underlined that the United States was "prepared to lend our support and good offices should the parties seek a cease-fire." This has happened. One has to now wait and see what the future holds for Palestine.
The United States also has to take steps, objectively, in ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media inside Gaza. They have already indicated to Israel that this is their "paramount responsibility" after the most unfortunate and deliberate destruction of the building in Gaza by Israeli bombs that housed the offices of Al Jazeera and the AP. It may be recalled that Israel had defended its action by declaring that the building housed not only news bureaus but offices of Hamas militants. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt and Al Jazeera authorities have both denied this and asked the Israeli authorities to provide required evidence, but that has not been made available. This has led the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists to demand an explanation from the Israeli government. They feel that the Israeli forces deliberately targeted media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of the human suffering in Gaza.
One needs to conclude at this point by referring to the valuable comment made by Pope Francis. He has correctly warned of any descent "into a spiral of death and destruction. Where will hatred and revenge lead? Do we really think we will build peace by destroying the other?" he asked.
All concerned parties need to move forward from this viewpoint-- platform.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.