Palestinian children walk past the rubble of the al-Bukhari mosque in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip on 2 March 2024, following an Israeli air strike. Image: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto

Skepticism Persists Over Biden’s Gaza Ceasefire Plan


Amid widespread criticism and ongoing student protests over its Gaza policy, US President Joe Biden has outlined a three-phase Israeli proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza, which he described as the best way to end the conflict.

The proposal‘s first phase involves a six-week ceasefire, during which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would withdraw from populated areas of Gaza. Captives, including the elderly and women, held in Gaza would be exchanged for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Palestinian civilians, including those from northern Gaza, would return home. Additionally, 600 trucks would deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza daily.

In the second phase, the Palestinian armed group Hamas and Israel would negotiate terms for a permanent end to hostilities. The final stage envisions a permanent cessation of hostilities and a comprehensive reconstruction plan for Gaza, coupled with a long-term political solution.

Hamas said it views the proposal “positively and constructively”, and expressed its readiness to respond “positively and constructively” to any proposal that includes these measures, as well as the return of displaced Palestinians to their homes in Gaza, provided Israel explicitly commits to the terms. 

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad voiced skepticism about Biden’s proposal, suggesting that the American administration’s position might have shifted. “It is still clear that the American administration is completely biased towards the Zionist entity, covering up its crimes and participating in the aggression,” the group stated. They emphasized: “We will evaluate any proposal in a way that ensures an end to the war of genocide against our people, preserves their interests and rights, and meets the demands of the resistance.”

Presenting a contradictory position, Israeli PM Netanyahu insisted that it is committed to Hamas’s destruction as part of an Israeli plan presented by President Biden. “Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed: the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages, and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel,” the Israeli leader said.

Mixed Reactions

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the development, noting the world had “witnessed too much suffering [and] destruction in Gaza” and said it was “time to stop”. “I welcome [President] Biden’s initiative [and] encourage all parties to seize this opportunity for a ceasefire, release of all hostages, guaranteed unhindered humanitarian access [and] ultimately a durable peace in the Middle East,” he added.

Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara contends that Biden’s proposal “is meant to rehabilitate Netanyahu than it is meant to rehabilitate Gaza,” to indicate the Israeli PM as a moderate and pragmatist while his coalition partners as extremists. 

There is also a belief that the US administration’s fig leaf comes amid growing concerns of President Biden losing re-election over his unwavering support of Israel’s Gaza offensive. A poll released has indicated that Biden enjoyed less than 20 percent support among Arab Americans, a key constituency in several US swing states that could decide the upcoming vote.

Former director of Israel’s Foreign Ministry Alon Liel noted that Biden’s ceasefire plan was “music to the ears of the Israelis who want to end the war” and there is a “mixed message” coming from Washington. “The surprising thing was that [the ceasefire proposal] was described as an Israeli offer. This contradicts many things that Netanyahu said recently; it looks more like an American offer that is presented as an Israeli one,” Liel told Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s president-elect, Prabowo Subianto, said his country is willing to send peacekeeping troops to enforce a ceasefire in Gaza if required. Prabowo added that Biden’s proposal for a ceasefire was a step in the right direction.

Humanitarian crisis exacebate

The United Nations says that far too little aid was reaching people in Gaza to the extent that children were starving. “These are children under five who are not getting food all day,” the World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris said.

Echoing similar concerns, UN OCHA highlighted the risk of deadly malnutrition and famine among Gaza’s most vulnerable individuals. “I would say they are certainly not getting the amount that they desperately need to prevent a famine, to prevent all kind of horrors that we see. It’s very, very little that is going around at the moment,” OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke noted. 

According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, an estimated 36,379 Palestinians have been killed and 82,407 wounded in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7. The ministry added that 95 people were killed and 350 injured in the latest 24-hour reporting period. Additionally, the total number of Palestinians arrested in the occupied West Bank has risen to over 8,975, including those who remain in detention and those who were later released.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) recently issued a fresh ruling, ordering Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive in Rafah”. It acted in support of a South African latest application which sought a number of measures against Israel, accusing it of stepping up what it says is a genocide.

Presiding judge Nawaf Salam said the situation in Gaza had deteriorated since the court last ordered Israel to take steps to improve it. Salam said “Israel must immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate” which could bring about “the physical destruction” of the Palestinians – alluding to what constitutes genocide under international law.

Others join genocide case

More countries have announced their efforts to join South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the UN’s top court. Mexico has invoked Article 63 of the ICJ statute and submitted a declaration of intervention in the case concerning the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip. In its declaration, Mexico stated that it “seeks to intervene, in order to provide its view on the potential construction of the content of the provisions of the Convention relevant to this case.”

Earlier, Libya and Egypt officially announced their attempt to join the case. South Africa brought up the case against Israel back in December because of the genocidal war of Israel against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip as well as Israel’s occupation, apartheid, and settler colonialism regime in the West Bank.

On January 26, the ICJ announced provisional measures to be taken by Israel and revealed the plausibility of Israel committing genocidal acts amid the ongoing war in Gaza. More recently, South Africa urged the court to end Israel’s Rafah offensive. In a separate case, the ICJ has refused to announce any provisional measures in Nicaragua’s request over Germany’s arms export to Israel. In February, both Egypt and Libya were also present at the ICJ for the political support of Palestine’s legal procedures against Israel’s occupation.

Israeli female soldiers pose for a photo on a position on the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel on 19 Feb 2024. Image: Tsafrir Abayov/Associated Press.

On May 10, the ICJ in the Hague announced the formal submission of Libya’s declaration of intervention to the proceedings of the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip (South Africa v. Israel). According to the ICJ statement, Libya’s intervention in the case came “because of its belief that acts omissions by Israel are of genocidal character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.” 

Two days later, in a press release on May 12, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Egypt’s intent to join South Africa’s case at the ICJ. Cairo’s announcement to join the case is foreseen in the light of its recent verbal escalation with Israel after the military offense in Rafah city and Israel’s control of the Rafah border crossing from the Palestinian side. 

Israel’s advancement in Rafah has sparked rage among Egyptian officials, who vowed that such advancement and a full-scale military operation in Rafah jeopardizes the peace agreement between the two countries. 

Several civil society groups in Egypt endorsed MOFA’s statement, yet they emphasized that this is a long overdue step from the Egyptian government. Most recently, both the Egyptian and Israeli foreign ministers have had public quarrels about the responsibility of halting humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza from the Rafah border crossing. A statement by the Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shokry, asserted, “Egypt’s categorical rejection of the policy of distorting facts and disavowing responsibility adopted by the Israeli side.” 

Other countries, such as Turkey and Colombia, have also announced their intent to join South Africa’s case against Israel. Egypt and Libya’s request to join South Africa came after a month of Colombia’s formal request to intervene in the case. On April 5th, the ICJ announced that Colombia filed a declaration of intervention in the proceedings. Colombia’s request to intervene in the case was accompanied by other measures in its diplomatic relations with Israel. During a public speech, Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, announced last week the suspension of diplomatic ties with Israel on the background of its military offense in Gaza.

Earlier in May, Turkey’s foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, revealed that Turkey will join South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the ICJ. Turkey’s move to join the ICJ case came after an earlier announcement by President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an of suspending economic ties with Israel. Turkey imposed trade sanctions and export restrictions on several Israeli products, such as cement, steel and iron construction materials. 

While such economic shock might hurt the Turkish economy, Ankara intended to signal a message that its economic ties with Israel will not bypass its commitment to the Palestinian cause. The efficiency of the collective efforts to hold Israel accountable for its violations in the Gaza Strip is yet to be seen in the coming period. While such moves from these countries are more symbolic acts and less likely to significantly impact the court verdict, they signal a clear message about discontent with Israel’s war on Gaza and the way the situation is being handled.

Ahmed El Assal

Ahmed El Assal is a PhD Candidate at the International Institute of Social Studies. His current research focuses on governance, political economy of aid assistance, civil society, and accountability of public service provision in Africa and the Middle East.

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