The Platform

Israel Defense Forces

Even after months of heavy fighting and well over 30,000 Palestinian civilians dead, Israel shows no sign that it’s willing to abandon its war in Gaza.

On May 11, the Israeli military mandated the evacuation of central Rafah. Palestinians sheltering in Rafah were instructed to relocate to the “expanded humanitarian area” in Al-Mawasi, a considerable distance away from their homes.

This order came after the intense bombardment of Rafah by Israeli forces on May 10, which triggered a new wave of displacement as residents fled their homes to escape the violence. Before this, Israel had compelled civilians to evacuate the eastern portions of Rafah, displacing tens of thousands. Rafah, historically a refuge for over a million displaced Palestinians from other war-stricken areas of Gaza, has now seen about 110,000 of its residents flee, primarily from southern Gaza where all access points have been sealed, effectively blocking the delivery of supplies, and impeding the movement of medical and humanitarian personnel. The area now faces a critical shortage of food and fuel.

Simultaneously, the UN Security Council has called for an immediate and independent investigation into the reported mass graves discovered adjacent to the Nasser and Al-Shifa medical facilities in Gaza, believed to contain the remains of several hundred civilians, including women, children, and elderly persons.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts in Cairo aimed at negotiating a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel have hit an impasse. Despite skepticism surrounding Israel’s commitment, recent developments suggest that a breakthrough in achieving a ceasefire may still be possible.

The conflict erupted on October 7, 2023, when Hamas launched an attack on Israel, killing more than 1,170 individuals, and taking 252 people hostage. Of these, it is believed that 128 remain in captivity, including 36 who are deceased. This attack led to a large-scale military retaliation from Israel, resulting in over 34,904 Palestinian deaths and 78,404 injuries, the majority of whom include women and children. On the Israeli side, the military has suffered 263 deaths and 1,592 injuries since the commencement of its operations in Gaza, which have devastated the region and led to a severe humanitarian crisis.

Amid these turbulent times, a significant rift has surfaced between the Biden administration and the Netanyahu government over a major offensive in Rafah. The U.S. recently suspended a bomb shipment to Israel, citing the operation’s lack of consideration for the humanitarian needs of civilians.

Israeli military units in Gaza
Israeli military units in Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)

Egypt has offered Hamas a detailed proposal for a ceasefire and prisoner exchange. This proposal includes a temporary 40-day ceasefire, which could be extended, followed by the release of all civilian Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip. The second stage addresses the conclusion of prisoner exchanges and the initiation of reconstruction efforts. The final stage involves completing the reconstruction process and exchanging the bodies of those killed during the conflict. The agreement identifies Qatar, Egypt, and the United States as guarantors responsible for overseeing the implementation of these terms.

The proposal is certainly achievable, and it is now primarily the responsibility of the U.S. to get it somehow approved by Israel, and Hamas will surely follow. France and Saudi Arabia need to get involved, they have some leverage in the whole matter of operationalizing the Hamas-Israel agreement. At the very least they can help foot the bill for the reconstruction of Gaza.

In the U.S., unprecedented and widespread student protests have erupted, calling for universities to divest from arms firms supplying Israel and, in some cases, to sever academic ties with Israeli universities. These protests have become a focal point during a deeply divisive U.S. election year, and similar movements have spread to campuses in the UK, France, Australia, and other countries, further emphasizing the influence of global public opinion on the conflict.

Global public opinion, particularly among young people, has become a critical force in shaping political landscapes worldwide. In response to growing international pressure, Israel has recently intensified its efforts to distribute aid in Gaza, demonstrating a commitment to humanitarian needs amidst ongoing conflict. The calls for a ceasefire are also echoing across U.S. college campuses, a pivotal ally and supporter of Israel, with parallel protests emerging on European university campuses. These anti-war demonstrations have notably resonated with displaced Palestinian students in Rafah, whose educational pursuits were abruptly halted on October 7 due to the conflict.

Amidst ongoing hostilities, the Palestinians continue to endure the harsh impacts of Israel’s aggressive military campaigns. The U.S. has faced criticism for not doing enough to prevent Israel from further destroying what remains of Gaza. The current humanitarian situation is dire, prompting urgent calls to prevent Israel from launching an invasion of Rafah, which would likely be catastrophic. Critics argue that the Biden administration needs to thwart Israel’s plans to dismantle Hamas, which is seen not just as a military entity but as a potent symbol of resistance embedded in the Arab psyche.

The focus is now shifting towards achieving a two-state solution to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a process many believe only the U.S. has the leverage to effectively facilitate due to its significant influence over Israel. Despite this potential, the Biden administration’s handling of the situation has been criticized as overly politicized, a stance that is viewed by many as regrettable but an enduring reality in international diplomacy.

The rise of a new globalist student movement, propelled by the vast reach of social media, continuous news cycles, and global networking, signifies a notable shift in the political dynamics. This movement is challenging the traditional frameworks and approaches of the Biden and Netanyahu administrations, which are often perceived as anchored in outdated knowledge and dependent on conventional brick-and-mortar institutions and think tanks. This reliance on old paradigms is increasingly seen as inadequate in addressing the complexities of today’s global political environment.

Recently, the Biden administration has voiced significant concerns regarding the application of U.S.-supplied weapons by Israel in Gaza, suggesting that their use may not align with international humanitarian law. This critique marks the administration’s most direct condemnation of Israel’s military actions to date. However, the State Department has also noted that there is insufficient concrete evidence to directly link these weapons to specific humanitarian violations or to justify a cessation of arms supply.

In a related international development, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on May 10, calling for the UN Security Council to support the full membership of Palestine in the UN. Supported by 143 countries and opposed by nine, including the United States, with 25 abstentions, the resolution grants Palestine a range of rights and privileges beyond its current observer status.

The shifting global public opinion is exerting significant domestic pressure on both the Netanyahu government and the Biden administration, albeit for different reasons. The robust student demonstrations in the U.S. and globally could potentially exert sufficient political pressure to influence the trajectory of the Gaza conflict, fostering optimism for the realization of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement once the current fighting ends. This hope is bolstered by the recent political developments and the visible shift in policy by the Biden administration, which had previously shown unequivocal support for Israel.

Sohail Mahmood is an independent political analyst focused on global politics, U.S. foreign policy, governance, and the politics of South and West Asia.