Gaza update: hopes for a ceasefire fade again

Northern and central Gaza have been hit by Israeli airstrikes this week as troops return to battle Hamas fighters in areas they claimed to have cleared many months ago. The intensified military offensive unfolded just days after mediators thought they were making headway in negotiations for a ceasefire. On Friday, Hamas reportedly dropped its insistence on a “complete” ceasefire as a prerequisite for talks.

But hope of progress was brought to an abrupt halt. It emerged that an Israeli delegation led by spy chief David Barnea had travelled to Doha not to finalise a ceasefire deal, but to instead issue further demands on Hamas. Since then, the group has said that Israel’s renewed offensive in Gaza City could “reset the negotiation process to square one”.

Ceasefire plans are yet again hanging by a thread. According to Paul Rogers of the University of Bradford, this is not a surprise. He argues that the chances of reaching a ceasefire deal are, and always have been, slim.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemingly learned shortly after the start of the war that the complete destruction of Hamas would not be possible – a fact now being proved regularly as the group resurfaces in some of Gaza’s hardest-hit areas. But he has pressed on with the military campaign anyway.

Read more: Gaza war: ceasefire deal in the balance again as Israel presses ahead with its military campaign

Rogers argues that continuing with the war is the only way Netanyahu can maintain support from influential factions within his government. Two of his ministers, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose parties help Netanyahu’s coalition secure a small majority in parliament, remain steadfast in their opposition to striking any deal before Hamas is destroyed. On July 8, Smotrich took to social media to say that making a ceasefire deal now would be “senseless folly”.

Gaza Update is available as a fortnightly email newsletter. Click here to get our updates directly in your inbox.

Smotrich, who is finance minister and the leader of the ultranationalist Religious Zionist party, has gained huge influence over government policy over the past couple of years. As Dalia Alazzeh of the University of the West of Scotland and Shahzad Uddin of the University of Essex explain, Smotrich has used his influence to cripple the Palestinian economy.

He has blocked the transfer of – and has made deductions to – the tax revenue that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The result of these measures has been devastating.

The Palestinian Authority is facing a huge gap between incoming revenue and the amount needed to fund public expenditures. At the time of writing, it is only able to pay public sector workers up to 70% of their salaries, and famine is spreading throughout the Gaza Strip.

Alazzeh and Uddin point to a World Bank report that suggests the financial situation of the Palestinian Authority “dramatically worsened” in the three months leading up to May, raising the prospect of an “imminent fiscal collapse”.

Read more: How Israel has brought the Palestinian Authority to the brink of financial collapse

Palestine’s beleaguered economy does, however, look set to be given a brief reprieve. In late June, Smotrich announced that he would finally unfreeze tax revenue and extend a waiver that allows cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian banks.

But there would be a catch. This would come in return for approving five outposts – or Israeli settlements – in the occupied West Bank that are widely regarded as illegal under international law.

Meanwhile, it was made public on July 3 that Israel had approved its largest seizure of land in the West Bank in over three decades. The move follows a series of similar land grabs that have happened so far this year.

According to Serag El Hegazi from the University of Bradford, these actions are part of a strategy to expand Israel’s control over the West Bank and choke off the possibility of a Palestinian state. This is something Smotrich is all too happy to admit. He has previously described thwarting the establishment of a Palestinian state as his “life’s mission”.

Read more: Record Israeli land grab fuels already soaring tension in the West Bank

Britain’s unclear position

The stance of Smotrich towards Palestine is clear. But the same cannot be said for the Labour party in the UK, which swept to power last week. As James Vaughan from Aberystwyth University explains, the Labour party has a complex historical legacy when it comes to Israel and Palestine. The new prime minister, Keir Starmer, has a difficult line to tread.

Read more: Labour is divided over Israel and Palestine – as prime minister, Keir Starmer has a difficult line to tread

On we go

So, with tensions as high as they have been at any point in the war, what might happen next? Rogers argues that the war in Gaza will probably rage on.

Israel looks increasingly unlikely to be able to defeat Hamas and end the war on its own terms. And, given the deep anger directed at Israel, ending the war on almost any terms is not as paramount among Palestinians as one might think.

The US has leverage and could force Israel to accept a ceasefire. But that is unlikely due to the support Israel has within the US, as well as the fact that Biden finds himself preoccupied with speculation over his fitness to run for a second term.

Read more: Kamala Harris: the top choice to replace Biden as Democratic nominee should he step aside

There are other issues that could influence the likelihood of a ceasefire too, says Rogers. These include the position of the new Iranian government. According to Arshin Adib-Moghaddam of SOAS, University of London, the election of a known democrat in Masoud Pezeshkian should be seen as a positive development in the sphere of foreign affairs.

Read more: Iran's new reformist president offers hope to the west and cover for the conservative establishment

But, ultimately, the main challenge to Netanyahu may come from senior members of his military, who are becoming convinced that the war is unwinnable and increasingly wary of escalation with Hezbollah.

Jonathan Este is on holiday.

Gaza Update is available as a fortnightly email newsletter. Click here to get our updates directly in your inbox.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.