Like many other countries, the US is calling for a temporary stop to bombings, shelling and blockades. This is to spare as many lives of Palestinian citizens as possible. Such a ‘humanitarian pause’ should also allow more emergency aid transports to the area.
But Israel does not want to go further than a few short pauses in fighting. “There will be no total ceasefire in Gaza without the release of our hostages,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with the American news channel ABC on Monday. However, he did leave open the possibility of small breaks in the fighting for the transport of humanitarian supplies or the release of Israeli hostages.
US President Joe Biden urged a three-day break in Gaza in a telephone conversation with Netanyahu that same day, US news site Axios revealed. One of the proposals discussed was that Hamas would in return release ten to fifteen hostages and provide a list of names of all hostages. According to the Israeli army, Hamas has taken a total of 240 people hostage. Only four of them have been released so far and one was rescued.
Israel does not trust Hamas
Israel doesn’t like that at all. Netanyahu is said to have informed Biden that he does not trust the intentions of Hamas and that the group would not want to make a deal on releasing hostages at all. According to Axios’ sources, Netanyahu’s distrust may be partly because Hamas has attacked Israeli soldiers in the past during a humanitarian lull in the 2014 war, kidnapping one of them and killing several others.
The two countries disagree on more major issues. First of all, the future of Gaza. The US wants a so-called two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine coexist and recognize each other’s borders. Netanyahu has promised in the past that a Palestinian state will never exist under his rule. On Gaza, he said Monday that he believes Israel should assume a security role in Gaza for an “indefinite period” once the fighting is over.
The White House then publicly warned Israel on Tuesday against “a reoccupation of Gaza.” President Biden previously said it would be “a big mistake” if Israel were to reoccupy the Gaza Strip, from which the country withdrew in 2005. However, he added that ‘eliminating extremists’ is a ‘necessary requirement’.
“The solutions that both countries envision differ considerably,” says Middle East expert Erwin van Veen of the Clingendael Institute. “In Israel, the credo is: eliminate Hamas, whatever the cost. That means large-scale destruction and displacement of civilians. Even a temporary occupation of Gaza could take years.”
While the US is insisting on reducing tensions in the region. Van Veen: “For the Americans, the flare-up of conflict with so many civilian casualties is causing significant reputational damage. If the conflict spreads to surrounding countries, they will probably also become involved in combat. Washington is not looking forward to that. Voices are being raised within Israeli politics. The need to eventually put an end to Hezbollah (the militant movement that mainly operates from southern Lebanon, ed.) is therefore a matter of great concern to the American government.”
This also applies to the Israeli announcement of new settlements in the West Bank earlier this year. The US government said it was ‘deeply concerned’ about this. Van Veen: “Just don’t forget that America has mainly watched the expansion of settlements over the last fifteen years. Sometimes there were protests, but in the end Washington did not stand in Israel’s way.”
Despite the public disagreement, little will change in the warm ties between the two countries for the time being. The US has been Israel’s most important ally for decades. Every year, the Americans transfer the equivalent of 3.5 billion euros to Israel, the majority of which is spent on weapons and other military resources. There are close collaborations in technology and tactics, with the stated goal of allowing Israel to maintain a military advantage in the Middle East.
“These public discussions will not lead to cracks in the mutual relationship, which remains strong,” said Israeli political scientist Yonatan Freeman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Both sides have a lot to gain, militarily and economically. Moreover, there are large numbers of Israelis with family ties in the US, and vice versa.”
He further notes the key role America has played in improving Israel’s relations with neighboring Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. “Washington has acted many times as a mediator between Israel and the Arab and Islamic world. This has also led to historic peace agreements that benefit Washington, Jerusalem and other international actors.”