01/23/2024, 20.50
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Hostages and Abraham Accords: more and more Israelis in favour of talks with Palestinians

by Dario Salvi

Israel loses 21 soldiers in one day, calls for a two-month truce. The hostage issue remains unresolved. Increasingly, Israelis want a deal with Palestinians, with 51.3 per cent backing a demilitarised Palestinian state in exchange for the release of the hostages. Research by an Israeli NGO, Yesh Din, shows that Jewish settlers enjoy impunity; about 94 per cent of investigations into anti-Palestinian violence ended without an indictment.

Milan (AsiaNews) – There is some movement in the stormy and bloody waters of the Holy Land where Israel and Hamas have fought a brutal war in Gaza for more than 100 days, following the terror attack on 7 October by the Palestinian group that controls the Strip.

The latest combat has exacted a heavy toll from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), with 21 soldiers killed. Among Palestinians, the death toll now tops 25,000, mostly civilians including women, children, and the elderly.

The death of regular Israeli soldiers and reservists, late yesterday afternoon in the collapse of a building after the explosion of a tank hit by a rocket, has revived the latent opposition in Israel between pro-war and pro-talk factions, with the latter particularly keen on bringing home the hostages held by Hamas.

This probably explains Israel's "overture" to Egyptian and Qatari mediation for a two-month "pause" in the fighting, in exchange for the release of prisoners.

Increasingly in the country, there is a move to isolate Israel’s most radical and extremist wing, which in recent years has pushed the Palestinians to the wall in both Gaza and the West Bank, turning a blind eye – if not openly endorsing – settler violence in the Territories.

This is a major reason stifling talks and undermining prospects for peace, as evinced in a study by an Israeli NGO that shows settlers’ almost total impunity even when legal action is taken against them.

Weapons and diplomacy: the Abraham Accords

On the one hand, we have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is betting on the war to save his political career, and radical ultra-Orthodox right-wing ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who want to pursue the war at all costs to achieve the "total destruction" of the radical Palestinian movement and "complete control" of the Strip, a goal that is highly implausible.

On the other hand, there is a growing movement that includes politicians and civil society groups whose aim is to remove the current government in order to open negotiations over Gaza.

Their primary objective is the return of the hostages and the start of a transition process. Yesterday some relatives of hostages burst into a session of the Finance Committee of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, to protest the government's inertia.

At a diplomatic level, various parties are trying to find a way to silence the weapons by revamping the proposal for a Palestinian state alongside Israel in exchange for recognition and full relations between the Jewish state and Saudi Arabia.

The latter could represent another piece in the “Abraham Accords", which, although faltering in recent weeks, remain alive and on the regional and international agenda, against a backdrop in which - at least so far - the sound of weapons is louder.

It is from this perspective that a proposal put forward by five Arab countries for Gaza should be seen, as a start towards the birth of a Palestinian state in exchange for Saudi recognition and "normalisation" with Israel.

The proposal was forwarded via US diplomatic channels, the Wall Street Journal reports, despite the opposition of Netanyahu who, recently, reiterated his opposition in a phone call with US President Joe Biden.

The latter wants to cool the situation at a time when he is getting ready for the upcoming US presidential election that will determine who will be in the White House for the next four years.

Israelis and the war

The escalation of the conflict, the unresolved issue of hostages held by Hamas, and a growing toll of military losses are pushing more and more Israelis to look for new ways, other than the military, for a long-term solution.

All this emerges from research by the Geneva Initiative, an NGO linked to the Abraham Accords, conducted in December 2023-January 2024 based on a sample of 500 respondents and a margin of error of 4.4 per cent.

When asked what would be the "most viable" solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 31.7 per cent chose "two states for two peoples", 26.2 per cent "mass expulsion" of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, 19.2 per cent "annexation" of the two territories "without granting citizenship to Palestinians”, and 2.9 per cent who want annexation but with "equal rights". About 20 per cent did not know.

More significant is the result of the second of five questions asked. In the event of a US-brokered deal that includes the return of hostages, a future demilitarised Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the normalisation of relations with Saudi Arabia, the results indicate: 51.3 per cent say they "support" this option; 28.9 per cent are against, while 19.8 per cent do not know, waiting to see what comes next.

About 50.5 per cent do not want Israeli soldiers "three years from now" still in Gaza, which highlights the importance of the last question. When, asked “If one of the existing political parties that will run in the next elections promises to work towards a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, would this increase the likelihood that I would vote for it,” 30.4 per cent said yes, 15.7 per cent said no, and 53.9 per cent say it would not make a difference.

Settlers’ impunity

One of the unresolved questions, which came to the fore amid the conflict in Gaza, is the violence by Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which has contributed to fuelling the climate of mistrust between the parties and reduced the prospects for a diplomatic solution.

Not only has the current government seemingly encouraged the attacks, but settlers have long enjoyed substantial impunity.

A recent study covering the past 19 years by Israeli human rights group Yesh Din found that more than 80 per cent of the investigations by Israeli police were closed due to police failures, resulting from a “deliberate Israeli policy” of oppression, abuse, and denial of rights.

The research is based on 1,664 police investigation files (not all) opened due to incidents of suspected Israeli violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, which were monitored by Yesh Din from 2005 to September 2023.

About 94 per cent of the investigations were closed without an indictment and only 3 per cent reported a conviction.

In over 80 per cent of the investigations reviewed, the cases were ultimately closed due to police’s failure to either identify the perpetrator or find the evidence needed to prosecute the culprits.

Among Palestinians, distrust of Israeli police is very high, with 58 per cent of Palestinian victims of crime in 2023 choosing not to report.

“The fact that this systemic failure has continued for at least two decades evinces that the State of Israel normalises and supports ideologically motivated violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank as a matter of policy and benefits from its effects,” Yesh Din said in a statement.

What is more, “The high rate of failure points to a long-standing systemic and deliberate failure in law enforcement responses to ideologically motivated crime against Palestinians in the West Bank,” it added.


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