Resumption of Israel’s military assault on Gaza after the five day pause is rapidly creating a monumental humanitarian catastrophe for the civilian population there. This is an utterly unacceptable yet inevitable outcome of the objective to destroy Hamas’s military and political ability to attack Israel again. The United Nations Secretary General’s decision to invoke Article 99 of the UN treaty by calling an urgent meeting of the Security Council to discuss the emergency is fully justified. Regional Arab and other powers have a big role to play in the search for peace if a ceasefire is agreed.
The main regional players ––Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, plus Turkey and Iran – all have different interests at stake in the conflict. Egypt and Jordan remain security partners of Israel as neighbours interested in stability, despite the war. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were previously pursuing normalisation strategies with United States support until the Hamas atrocities on October 7th abruptly put an end to them. Qatar plays an important mediating role in hostage releases and has communication lines to the Hamas leadership. Turkey’s sympathies for the ideological and religious allies of Hamas, alongside Iran’s outright hostility to Israel and aid for Hamas give them undeniable leverage.
All the Arab powers now link their calls for a ceasefire with a pathway towards reconstruction and political negotiations for a two-state settlement after fighting stops. They have no alternative if they are to maintain power and legitimacy, since their populations support the Palestinians and reject any return to normalisation without such statehood. That ends the Israeli-US efforts to marginalise the demand. The Biden administration’s support for the Israeli military campaign has linked it to Benjamin Netanyahu’s logic that Hamas must be eliminated.. Many now say it applies to the Gazan population as well.
In these dire circumstances it is essential that international pressure be exerted in support of a ceasefire linked to a resurrected and inclusive two-state political process. That must involve the European Union and its member-states, which are very much adjacent powers with profound interests in Middle East stability. China, too, can play a constructive role based on the recent pronouncements of foreign minister Wang Li. China can put pressure on Iran not to escalate disruption.
The US has lost the initiative here because of its unqualified support for Israel’s dangerous military campaign. The questions it has posed to Israel’s government on what will follow politically on i the success or failure of its campaign nevertheless remain valid. The Biden administration has powerful means to pressure Israel for a ceasefire and encourage the regional Middle Eastern states’ efforts towards peace. It should use them.