‘The goal is to destroy Gaza’: Why Israel rejects a ceasefire with Hamas

Israel has rejected a ceasefire and launched an operation in Rafah, raising fears that the war in Gaza could drag on.

Palestinians, in the east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip start to leave their homes and migrate to areas they consider safer in Gaza’s Rafah. [Ramez Habboud/Anadolu Agency]By Mat NashedPublished On 7 May 20247 May 2024

Israel appears to have been blindsided by Hamas’s announcement on Monday that it had agreed to an Egyptian-Qatari ceasefire proposal. But the Israeli government quickly made its position clear – the proposal wasn’t something it would agree to, and, to make matters more explicit, its military forces took control of the Palestinian side of Egypt’s border with Gaza in Rafah.

For many analysts, the Israeli government’s message is clear: there will be no permanent ceasefire, and the devastating war on Gaza will continue.

Keep reading

list of 3 itemslist 2 of 3

World reacts to Israel’s Rafah evacuation order

end of list

“Israel wants to reserve the right to continue operations in Gaza,” said Mairav Zonszein, a senior analyst on Israel-Palestine for the International Crisis Group (ICG).

She added that a deal seems impossible as long as Israel refuses to end the war, for good.

“If you enter a ceasefire deal, then you will [eventually] need a ceasefire,” she told Al Jazeera.

Israel’s bombing of Rafah has the ostensible aim of disbanding Hamas battalions and seizing control of the Gaza-Egyptian crossing, which Israel accuses Hamas of using to smuggle weapons into the besieged enclave. But humanitarian groups have been quick to point out that a closure of the crossing will have disastrous consequences for the more than one million Palestinians living in Rafah, the majority of them displaced.

And it also jeopardises hopes of securing a deal between Israel and Hamas, which Egypt, Qatar and the United States have spent days attempting to broker, with William Burns, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) heavily involved.

Israel said that the terms of the Hamas ceasefire differed from previous proposals it had seen. But analysts believe that the wider issue is that Israel is not willing to agree to a permanent ceasefire, even after Hamas releases Israeli captives.

“The last couple of days have proved that Israel was not really negotiating in good faith. The moment that Hamas agreed to a deal, Israel was willing to blow that up by commencing their assault on Rafah,” said Omar Rahman, an expert on Israel-Palestine with the Middle East Council for Global Affairs, a think tank in Doha, Qatar.

“The goal is to destroy Gaza in its totality,” he told Al Jazeera.

Relatives of Palestinians who lost their lives in an Israeli attack mourn as they take bodies from the morgue of  al-Merouani Field Hospital to be buried in Rafah, Gaza on May 7, 2024 [Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu Agency]

Selling a victory?

Rafah has become the last refuge for Palestinians fleeing Israeli attacks across the enclave’s northern and central regions. It has not been totally spared attack, but the Israeli army had not – until Monday – sent in ground forces to occupy territory there.

But having conducted ground operations across the rest of Gaza, and with Hamas still operational and dozens of Israeli captives still being held, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has begun his attack – although its still to be determined how far his forces will go in Rafah.

The conundrum that Netanyahu faces is that he has promised the Israeli public victory against Hamas – and a large majority of Jewish Israelis support an invasion of Rafah, according to a survey taken in March by the Israeli Democracy Institute. But the US, despite its overwhelming support for Israel throughout the war on Gaza, has made clear that it will not support a full-scale invasion.

Israel’s war cabinet may be trying to satisfy public opinion by going ahead with the Rafah offensive and initially rejecting a ceasefire, said Hugh Lovatt, an expert on Israel-Palestine with the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR).

“It might be too difficult for the Israeli government to accept a proposal that is seen [by the Israeli public] to be on Hamas’s terms,” he told Al Jazeera. “By going into Rafah, Israel could be seen as saying…we have taken over the corridor, we have uprooted terrorist infrastructure and now we can have a ceasefire.”

Clinging to power

Netanyahu’s political career also hinges on continuing the war in Gaza, analysts told Al Jazeera. They explained that a permanent ceasefire could lead to the collapse of his far-right coalition, prompting early elections and his removal from power.

Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, have reportedly both threatened to leave and collapse Netanyahu’s coalition if Israel agrees to a captive deal and ceasefire.

Far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir has repeatedly threatened to leave the Israeli government if a deal with Hamas is agreed [File: Amir Cohen/Reuters]

Khaled Elgindy, an analyst on Israel-Palestine for the Middle East Institute, believes that Hamas’s acceptance of a ceasefire proposal puts Netanyahu in an awkward position since he can no longer claim that a reasonable deal isn’t on the table.

“Netanyahu needs the war to continue and expand for him to stay in power. He personally doesn’t have an incentive,” he told Al Jazeera.

Lovatt, from ECFR, added that invading Rafah also carries medium and long-term risks for Netanyahu and Israel. He fears that if Israel significantly escalates its offensive on Rafah, then it will lose the remaining Israeli captives without arriving any closer to its stated aim of “eradicating Hamas”.

“If Israel goes into Rafah and wreaks carnage and damage, then it will be no closer to its strategic objective and I think that will create more complications for Netanyahu in the weeks and months ahead,” he told Al Jazeera.

In May, US President Joe Biden warned Netanyahu against invading Rafah and said such a move would be a “red line”.

Lovatt believes that the US should penalise Netanyahu for disregarding Biden’s threat. He added that the US should suspend military aid and clarify that the ceasefire proposal accepted by Hamas is in line with the one that CIA chief Burns helped mediate.

CIA Director William Burns has been heavily involved in negotiations to bring about a truce deal between Israel and Hamas [File: Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP]

“It appears that Israel is bypassing a ceasefire proposal that Will Burns worked on. This is a massive move against US diplomacy and I think the US needs to put its foot down,” Lovatt told Al Jazeera.

“This is about saving Netanyahu from himself and saving Israel from itself.”

The US has delayed the sale of thousands of precision weapons to Israel, but Elgindy is sceptical that the US will exert more pressure to avert a catastrophe in Rafah.

He said that Biden still doesn’t appear to grasp Israel’s strategic error in Gaza or the scale of the disaster that he has enabled.

“Some people in Biden’s administration have reached that conclusion [that Israel committed a strategic error], but they are not decision-makers. They are not the president,” he told Al Jazeera.

Zonszein, from Crisis Group, added that it is unclear how far the US will go to push Netanyahu to accept a ceasefire. She said that the US appears to have given the mediators private guarantees that any ceasefire would eventually lead to a permanent end to the war.

“The US is very much interested in stopping this invasion into Rafah and I think it has the ability to stop it,” she said. “ It just doesn’t want to appear to be helping Hamas, so it’s a tricky situation.”

Source: Al Jazeera