20231030 netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Image Credit: Reuters

Antony Blinken’s eight trips to the Middle East have not succeeded in stopping the Gaza War, not even with US President Joe Biden’s recent peace plan.

Biden packaged it as a “comprehensive road map,” calling for a halt to hostilities, withdrawal of Israeli troops from and return of displaced Palestinians, in addition to the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023. When all of that is done the US would lead international efforts for the delivery of aid to Gaza.

Stage One of the Biden Plan would start with a partial withdrawal of the Israeli army coming hand-in-hand with Hamas’ release of 33 Israeli hostages. Unarmed Palestinians would be allowed to return to their homes — or what remains of them — also over a 42-day period.

For each female or child hostage, 30 Palestinian women or children will be released, and in return for every Israeli hostage that is sick or injured, or those over the age of fifty, 30 elderly, sick, and injured Palestinian prisoners will be set free.

Israel would release 50 female Palestinians in exchange for every Israeli female soldier. During Stage One, humanitarian aid would be raised to 600 trucks and restoration of medical centres to Gaza.

Get exclusive content with Gulf News WhatsApp channel

Stage Two, also 42-days, would include a ceasefire, the release of civilian and male soldiers held by Hamas, and the complete withdrawal from Gaza.

Stage Three would lead to the exchange of dead bodies from both sides, and a 3-5 year rehabilitation process for Gaza, to be overseen by the UN, Egypt, and Qatar. The end result, according to Biden, would lead to lifting the blockade of Gaza.

Hamas has responded with a set of modifications, seen as an indirect conditional “yes”. For starters, they demanded a written assurance from the United States regarding a permanent ceasefire.

Hamas wants the ceasefire to start with Stage One, rather than Stage Two, and allow 50 of its wounded armed combatants free passage out of Gaza. During Stage One, they asked that Israeli troops withdraw from densely populated areas in Gaza.

Read more by Sami Moubayed

They have also asked that the phrase “lift the siege” is replaced with “end the siege” and mentions explicitly the reopening of all crossings, including Rafah. Hamas also demanded 24-hours of electricity for Gaza and asked that the guarantors list is expanded to include UNRWA, among others, which Biden will probably reject.

Doha-based Ismail Haniyeh said that Hamas’ response is “consistent” with the Biden Plan. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan added that some of the proposed changes are “expected, and can be managed.” Blinken acknowledged the proposed amendments, saying: “Some are workable. Some are not.”

Elephant in the room

The elephant in the room remains Hamas, which Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu had promised to annihilate. The Biden Plan implies that Hamas gets to stay in Gaza, without actually saying it.

There is nothing in the road map that calls for their immediate or eventual departure or disarmament, and nothing about giving control of Gaza to President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Basically, it re-sets Gaza to pre-7 October 2023, without changing the status quo.

Despite Biden’s insistence that the road map was signed off by Israel, Netanyahu is yet to endorse it openly in light of UNSCR 2735. If he does, it would be a major concession on his part, unleashing a Pandora’s Box within Israel, the day after the guns go silent in Gaza.

He will try to market it as a success while his many opponents would describe it as a major climb-down, citing it as a reason for his removal from office.

For the past eight months, the long-serving premier had set forth a series of objectives that were impossible to meet, and anything short of achieving them would be seen as no less than a major defeat.

He remembers only too well that Golda Meir resigned in 1974 as PM not because she lost the October War of 1973, but because she was unprepared for it.

The same applies to Ehud Olmert after the Lebanon War of 2006. He had promised to destroy Hezbollah, bomb Lebanon back to the Stone Age, and release two Israeli soldiers taken hostage the Iran-backed group.

They were proclaimed dead in June 2008. Far from being destroyed, Hezbollah is presently engaged in a war of attrition with Israel.

Accepting the Biden Plan would secure a permanent place for Netanyahu among the list of Israeli prime ministers who failed to achieve their wartime objectives. It would undoubtedly lead to his political departure from the scene.

— Sami Moubayed is a historian and former Carnegie scholar. He is also author of the best-seller Under the Black Flag: At the frontier of the New Jihad.