Gaza’s Humanitarian Crisis: When Can A Ceasefire Agreement Be Reached?

More than five months have passed since the current fighting between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas began, and ceasefire negotiations are at a standstill. The deepening humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory of Gaza must not be allowed to continue.

According to the United Nations, about 580,000 people, or a quarter of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents, are one step away from famine.

The United States has begun airdrops over Gaza to provide food aid such as flour and canned food. Washington has also said it will take steps to supply foodstuffs from the sea, but aid from the air and sea can be described as a last resort.

If large quantities of food are to be delivered to Gaza residents, land transport is most suitable. However, this has not been possible because Israel has almost completely blocked the delivery of food and other supplies through the checkpoint on the main road connecting Gaza and Egypt.

Even when food arrives in Gaza, its distribution to residents by such people as U.N. staffers has stalled because Israel’s attacks continue day after day.

If this situation remains unchanged, and cases of death from starvation and malnutrition increase sharply among the population, Israel will not be able to evade its responsibility.

A swift ceasefire is essential to halt the humanitarian crisis. Israel and Hamas were in talks with the aim of agreeing to pause the fighting at the start of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, that began earlier this month, but negotiations became deadlocked.

The pillars of the proposed agreement were a six-week pause in fighting and the release of hostages taken by Hamas from Israel. It was hoped that repeated extensions of a pause in the fighting would lead to a permanent ceasefire, but no agreement was reached.

Both sides are responsible for the failure to reach an agreement. Hamas reportedly pushed hard for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire. However, peace and stability will not come to Gaza as long as Hamas rules Gaza and it remains a hotbed of terrorist attacks against Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stubbornly refused a ceasefire. Despite demands for restraint from the United States and other countries, the Israeli prime minister has indicated his intention to expand Israel’s attacks to Rafah in southern Gaza, where about 1.5 million people have fled.

The Netanyahu administration is said to be in a situation in which it is difficult to make concessions, partly because it is a coalition government that includes hard-line far-right parties that are hostile toward the Palestinians.

What will Netanyahu’s goal of destroying Hamas entail? Continuing to attack Gaza beyond the scope of self-defense without clearly stating that goal will win neither the support of the Israeli public nor the understanding of the international community. It will only deepen the country’s isolation.

The United States and other countries must step up their efforts for a ceasefire.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 17, 2024)