Ambiguous prospects for peace in Middle East

Saturday, 2021-06-19 14:42:32
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A field on fire is seen after Palestinians in Gaza sent incendiary balloons over the border between Gaza and Israel, Near Nir Am June 15,2021. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas has been broken following the latest air strikes carried out by the Israeli military in retaliation for what Tel Aviv claimed as “hostile acts” against the Jewish State. The resumed violence not only hinders the Gaza reconstruction after conflict, but also makes the restoration of Middle East peace talks more obscure.

The Gaza Strip has been again engulfed in smoke and fire from Israeli air strikes over the past two days. In a statement on June 18, the Israeli military confirmed that its aircraft struck military compounds and rocket launch sites of Hamas in Gaza. The air strike campaign was conducted after the militant group launched incendiary balloons into Israeli territory. It said Tel Aviv had been prepared for all scenarios and is ready to respond appropriately to hostile acts against the Israeli territory.

The balloons, believed to have been launched from Gaza, sparked fires in residential areas in southern Israel, which was the direct reason for the latest Israeli airstrikes. Hamas said they were a response to a flag march by Israeli nationalists in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City. The parade was annually waged by far-right Israeli settler groups to celebrate the Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967.

Palestinian factions saw the march as a provocation, and responded with a “day of fury” in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The parade has fuelled tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, leading to clashes not just in Jerusalem but also along Israel’s border with Gaza. The Hamas movement that controls Gaza has vowed to continue firing rockets at Israel if the march is not cancelled.

Retaliations between Israel and Hamas armed wing broke the ceasefire that had come into effect from May 21 following 11 days of cross-border fighting which left at least 250 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. Over the three weeks after the conflict, Gaza’s difficulties have continued piling up. Aid commitments to rebuild the strip of smoke and fire have just been implemented. The resumed violence has raised fears of a more serious humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

In the face of the Gaza Strip falling back into a spiral of conflict, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all parties to immediately cease hostilities and abide by the ceasefire and agreements aimed at stabilising the situation in Palestinian territories.

The latest air strikes in Gaza mark Israeli’s first tense move with Palestinian armed groups under the new Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Pursuing the stance of favouring the expansion of Jewish settlements and protesting efforts to establish an independent Palestinian State, the new Israeli prime minister is said to be less likely to make major compromises on the Palestinian issue, especially the two-state solution which is being supported and promoted by the majority of the international community.

With Prime Minister Bennett’s administration, the Jerusalem issue continues to be a direct and urgent political and security challenge. Along with the government’s uncompromising stance, Tel Aviv’s policies such as building settlements, acquiring land from Palestinian families and especially the march marking Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, remain hot issues that could trigger protests and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. Increased violence in the occupied Palestinian territories could possibly get Hamas involved, leading to dangerous armed conflict.

While delivering a speech marking the end of his mission as the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process in late 2020, Nickolay Mladenov pointed out that so long as constructive negotiations between Israel and Palestine have yet to be restored, risks of devastating war and humanitarian, economic and medical crises in Gaza still exist. International efforts towards rebuilding trust and ensuring the legitimate interests of all parties can help break the deadlock in the Middle East peace process.