Gaza update: why neither ceasefire talks nor the Rafah offensive appear to be working

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, addressed his countrymen on Monday as the country marked its 76th day of independence. His narrative was predictably defiant. He trotted out his usual line that the war would not stop “until the Hamas monsters are eradicated”.

But the war has entered its eighth month and events on the ground suggest that the complete destruction of Hamas is still a way off. Netanyahu has for weeks argued that Israel must destroy the “last” stronghold of Hamas in the southern city of Rafah, where Israeli operations are becoming more intense. However, Israeli troops are now being sent back into areas of central and northern Gaza that Israel claimed to have “cleared” of Hamas fighters months ago.

Given the current situation, why is Netanyahu pressing ahead with this strategy when it appears to risk perpetuating the war, at a time when pressure is mounting both within and outside of Israel to bring the fighting to an end?

According to Ben Soodavar and Rhiannon Emm of King’s College London, the answer lies in the psychological conditions that are governing Netanyahu’s war policy. They argue that he is locked in a “loss dilemma” whereby the actions taken to avoid one kind of loss (military failure in eradicating Hamas) create a new anxiety about suffering a new one (losing domestic political standing).

Read more: Israel's assault on Rafah risks making victory against Hamas more elusive

Failure to accomplish his grand claim of achieving a military victory in Gaza places Netanyahu’s political standing at risk of being undermined. Any sense that he is backtracking on his pledge to eradicate Hamas will make it difficult to remain in power.

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As Ian Parmeter of the Australian National University writes, Netanyahu is facing pressure from all sides, with no good options. For example, the internal politics of Israel’s war coalition are preventing him from changing tack.

He is leading the most right-wing government in Israeli history. And his more extreme coalition partners, namely finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, and security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, have been clear they will walk out of the government and cause fresh elections should Hamas be offered any concessions. Given that a recent poll suggests that the majority of Israelis want Netanyahu to resign, he would almost certainly lose an election should it be held any time soon.

Read more: Israel’s invasion of Rafah will not eliminate Hamas or end the war. So, what is Benjamin Netanyahu's plan?

Soodavar and Emms say that the pressure being exerted by far-right members of Netenyahu’s coalition may be influencing him to commit his army to not only rid Gaza of Hamas fighters but to pursue a policy that sees an expansion of Israel’s borders. At a rally on May 14, Ben-Gvir called for the “voluntary emigration” of Palestinians from Gaza to make way for Israeli resettlement.

So, the war rages on, and to devastating effect at that. In Rafah, where more than 1 million displaced Palestinians are seeking refuge, Israeli tanks have advanced further into the eastern part of the city, reaching some residential districts.

The UN says almost 600,000 people have fled the area since the start of the Israeli ground operation there nine days ago, including 150,000 people in the past 48 hours. And the Palestinian death toll has risen to over 35,000 according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Nevertheless, negotiations in Cairo aimed at bringing a halt to the war in Gaza continue. According to John Strawson of the University of East London, who has been writing and researching about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for several decades, the way Israel and Hamas judge their progress in the war tells us a lot about the prospects for the talks, which have stalled since the start of Israel’s offensive in Rafah.

Strawson writes that Netanyahu’s misguided claims that Israel is on the path to victory shape his belief that there should be no permanent ceasefire, and the war on Gaza will continue. At the same time, the war has been a propaganda triumph for Hamas, drawing global attention to the Palestinian cause. Despite the destruction of Gaza and the tens of thousands of deaths, Hamas thinks the war is going well, he writes.

Read more: Gaza: what ceasefire negotiations tell us about how each side judges its progress in the war

As a result, a resolution to the conflict remains distant (even more so after Israel’s assault on Rafah). The Israeli government lacks a realistic plan for Gaza’s future beyond maintaining a military presence there and establishing some unspecified Palestinian civil administration. According to Strawson, this approach would bring neither security to Israel nor peace for the Palestinians.

But the pressure to agree a ceasefire is rising. Israelis are taking to the streets daily to demand that the government strikes a deal with Hamas to bring the remaining hostages home. And as they flee from one conflict zone to another, Palestinian residents are losing hope.

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

Jonathan Este is on holiday.

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

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