Israel, Hamas need to remain engaged and give peace a chance

An attack on Rafah is unlikely to help Israel achieve its second objective of eliminating Hamas any time soon.
People stand in a clearing strewn with debris from an israeli airstrike during an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel.
People stand in a clearing strewn with debris from an israeli airstrike during an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel.(Photo | AP)

Israel’s rejection of the latest ceasefire proposals notwithstanding, there is still a glimmer of hope for the return of peace in Gaza as the two sides have agreed to remain engaged. The talks between Israel and Hamas, facilitated by Egypt and Qatar, took place at a time when Israeli tanks had started rolling into Rafah, the last standing city in southern Gaza where the bulk of the enclave’s population had moved to after Israeli attacks elsewhere.

Israel has already taken control of the Gaza side of the Rafah checkpoint, which is on the border between Palestine and Egypt. There are reports that a full-blown Israeli ground attack on Rafah is imminent. Israel has already announced that its forces have faced rocket and mortar attacks from Rafah and has identified Hamas positions in the town.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that a full-scale assault on Rafah would be a human catastrophe with countless more casualties. He has appealed to all those who have influence over Israel to do everything in their power to avert the attack. His appeal was clearly aimed at the US, the biggest supporter of Israel.

The US appeared to be in agreement with Guterres as it has announced a pause in the latest arms shipment to Israel. US defence secretary Lloyd Austin has told a Senate committee that the Biden administration is reviewing security assistance to Israel in the light of the events unfolding in Rafah.

As pressure mounts on Israel, PM Benjamin Netanyahu would do well to heed warnings and seize the chance for peace with Hamas, which has expressed its readiness to release the hostages. The Hamas leadership announced it is ready to accept the deal brokered by Egypt and Qatar. The ceasefire proposal serves one of the two main objectives of the Netanyahu administration—the return of hostages.

An attack on Rafah is unlikely to help Israel achieve its second objective of eliminating Hamas any time soon. Israel needs to hammer out a peace deal while allowing humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza. The latest three-stage de-escalation proposal is a good document to work with. It proposes a swap of prisoners, a permanent ceasefire with complete withdrawal of troops, and the return of Gazans to their homes. Israel and Hamas need to take each other’s concerns into account and agree to give peace a chance.

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