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Peace and Conflict

Ramadan begins with no breakthrough on hostage deal | Update 11th March 2024

Ramadan begins with no breakthrough on hostage deal via BICom

What’s happened: As Ramadan begins, there is still no breakthrough in US-Qatari-brokered negotiations regarding a hostage release/cease fire in Gaza.

  • It was revealed on Sunday that Mossad Director Barnea met on Friday in Jordan with CIA Director Burns, who is holding a series of meetings in the region to try to prevent the negotiations over a hostage deal from collapsing.
  • The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement, saying of their meeting that “At this stage, Hamas is holding to its position as if it was uninterested in a deal and is striving to ignite the region during Ramadan at the expense of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. It should be emphasised that the contacts and cooperation with the mediators are ongoing in an effort to narrow the gaps and advance agreements.”
  • There are growing suggestions that Qatar could place more leverage on Hamas’s leadership. Among the threats could be threatening to expel top Hamas political bureau officials from Doha should they fail to persuade the movement’s leadership in Gaza to come to an agreement, or cutting off access to finances.
  • In a bid to help ensure calm in Israel and the West Bank over Ramadan, Shin Bet Director Bar visited Bahrain and Jordan last week, for talks with officials there.
  • On Saturday night, President Biden offered his harshest criticism of Prime Minister Netanyahu since the beginning of the war. Netanyahu was “hurting Israel more than helping Israel. He has a right to defend Israel, but he must, he must, he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken.”
  • In response, Netanyahu said he didn’t “know exactly what the president meant… if he meant by that that I was pursuing private policy against the wish of the majority of Israelis and that this was hurting the interests of Israel, then he is wrong on both counts."
  • Lord Cameron, the British Foreign Secretary, welcomed the US plan to improve the distribution of humanitarian aid in Gaza by building a pier off the Gazan coast to allow for maritime delivery of aid, rather than relying on overland truck convoys and airdrops. Cameron confirmed that the British government had been involved in with it “from the start”, and would be “helping with the pre-screening of aid".
  • He also called on Israel to allow the port of Ashdod to be used to transfer more aid to the Gaza Strip while the US was completing this pier.

Context:  Israeli officials believe that Hamas delayed and stalled on negotiations in a deliberate bid to have Ramadan begin with no agreement reached.

  • It hopes that it can succeed in inciting violence to such an extent that Israeli attention and resources are diverted from Gaza. Friday’s terror attack in the West Bank, in which seven Israeli soldiers were wounded, indicates the scale of the task facing security services in preventing an escalation during the holy month.
  • With the Biden Administration agreeing that the lack of a deal is due to Hamas intransigence and not Israeli inflexibility, the Israeli War Cabinet is not minded to empower Israel’s negotiators to negotiate with broader terms.
  • Gaza’s already precarious humanitarian situation has significantly worsened since 7th October, with approximately 80 percent of its population estimated to be internally displaced. Overland convoys of trucks are insufficient, and both the US and Arab partners have recently resorted to airdropping food and medical aid into the coastal enclave.
  • By opening a maritime corridor between Larnaca in Cyprus and an artificial pier off the coast of Gaza, it is hoped that this humanitarian situation can be partially alleviated.
  • Israel's Defence Minister Gallant has said that Israel supports the pier plan and that it could help topple Hamas from power in Gaza: “The process is designed to bring aid directly to the residents and thus continue the collapse of Hamas’s rule in Gaza.”
  • He also said that the establishment of this corridor would “ensure that supplies reach here for those who need them and not for those who don’t”.
  • Hamas has repeated appropriated aid intended for the Gaza Strip’s civilian population. Israel has long pursued a policy of caution when allowing its entry to the coastal enclave. This requirement to balance security with an obligation to facilitate aid distribution has compounded the coastal enclave’s precarious humanitarian situation since the outbreak of war in October:
  • An average of 95 trucks carry aid entered the Gaza Strip daily between October 2023 and February 2024, down from approximately 500 before the 7th October attacks. Approximately two million Gazans are estimated to be reliant on the UN for aid provision.
  • The Israeli government has responded to criticisms that it is not allowing enough aid into the coastal enclave by saying that “there is no limit to the amount of aid that can enter Gaza”, and stressing that it can facilitate the entry of more trucks.
  • Israel maintains that aid organisations and Hamas are to blame for the Gaza Strip’s humanitarian situation, and the real issues lie with how aid is being distributed once it arrives in the coastal enclave.
  • Since at least November 2023, reports have emerged of gunmen looting aid convoys. Israel says these gunmen are Hamas members, and points to their actions as one of the reasons why Gazan civilians have been unable to access aid.

Looking ahead: There remains hope that a hostage deal can still be reached during Ramadan.

  • This pier will be built by the US Army and is expected to take six to eight weeks to complete. The US has also said that Israel would secure this pier.
  • If a deal fails to be reached, Israeli officials continue to insist that an operation in Rafah remains essential in order to destroy Hamas’s military capabilities and its capacity to re-arm.

via BICom