Use Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire as opportunity for Middle East peace

Israel and the Palestinian Islamist organization Hamas, which have continued military clashes, have accepted a cease-fire. First of all, it is important for both sides to maintain self-control and calm the situation down.

In past clashes between the two sides, there have been cases where fighting resumed after a cease-fire was agreed upon. Egypt, which is acting as a mediator, is reportedly sending monitoring teams to the area. The United States and other countries must increase their involvement and push for the continuation of the cease-fire.

The end of the fighting, which lasted about 10 days, was probably due to the fact that both sides judged that they had achieved their objectives to some extent.

In its airstrikes on the Palestinian autonomous territory of Gaza, which is effectively controlled by Hamas, Israel dealt a military blow to the Islamist organization by destroying rocket launchers and a network of underground tunnels, among other facilities. For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it was an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership to his country.

Hamas also gained an actual benefit. It took advantage of the clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians over Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem to go on the offensive and succeeded in spreading an image throughout the Arab world that it is the guardian of the Holy Land.

Palestine is in a state of division, with Hamas at odds with the Palestinian National Authority, which governs the West Bank. As a result, the presence of Hamas has increased.

The direct victims are the residents of both Gaza and Israel who have been exposed to bombing and shelling. In Gaza, where supplies are scarce due to Israel’s blockade of the borders, civilian facilities were also damaged by the airstrikes. Japan and other countries should urgently provide humanitarian assistance.

The only way to prevent a recurrence of the conflict is for Israelis and Palestinians to discuss and fundamentally solve the structural conflict. Peace negotiations have been suspended since 2014. It is necessary to create an environment in which negotiations can resume.

The international community has historically promoted a peace initiative in which a Palestinian state would be established in the future that would coexist peacefully with Israel.

Israel’s recent expansion of Jewish settlements in the land it occupied in the Middle East wars is a move that runs against the spirit of coexistence. Netanyahu’s government must exercise self-control.

The Palestinian side, too, will not be able to come to the negotiating table if it is unable to overcome the division and Hamas continues its course of armed offensives.

The United States, as one might expect, holds the key. This time, U.S. President Joe Biden supported the Egyptian cease-fire mediation and reportedly tried to persuade Netanyahu.

If the conflict escalates into a confrontation between Arab countries and Israel, the entire region will be destabilized, which would be contrary to the national interest of the United States. Biden must also do his best to promote peace in the Middle East.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 22, 2021.