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The peace plan: Confusion or deception?

Jul 02,2024 - Last updated at Jul 02,2024

After eight months of the Biden administration’s frustrating moves towards Israel’s war on Gaza, in recent weeks they unveiled the most confounding move of all.

On May 31, President Biden announced a three-stage “peace deal” that he said would lead to an end to the conflict. The plan, he said, had already been approved by Israel and the burden was now on Hamas to accept its terms. The White House publicised the president’s proposal, issuing the exact language of the plans outline:

PHASE I

A complete ceasefire

Withdrawal of Israeli forces from populated areas in Gaza

Release of some hostages and some remains of hostages

Palestinian civilians can return to their homes in Gaza

A surge in humanitarian aid

PHASE 2

A permanent end to hostilities

Exchange for the release of remaining living hostages

Israeli forces withdraw from Gaza

PHASE 3

Major reconstruction plan for Gaza

Final remains of hostages are returned to their families

Shortly thereafter, Netanyahu released a statement, essentially rejecting Biden’s proposal as different from the “actual” plan to which he agreed. A June 1 statement issued by the prime minister’s office read:

“Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed: The destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel. Under the proposal, Israel will continue to insist these conditions are met before a permanent ceasefire is put in place. The notion that Israel will agree to a permanent ceasefire before these conditions are fulfilled is a non-starter.”

Asked to clarify the discrepancy between Biden and Netanyahu’s statements, the White House and State Department spokespersons appeared to accept Netanyahu’s terms.

The president’s national security adviser called Biden’s proposal the “Israeli cease-fire and hostage deal” and ”an Israeli proposal” that “the Israeli government has reconfirmed repeatedly... and now it’s up to Hamas to accept it, and the whole world should call on Hamas to accept it”. The State Department spokesperson said that if Hamas were truly committed to saving Palestinian lives not their own position, then they should accept the “deal”.

To further confuse matters, on June 10, the United States secured passage of a UN Security Council resolution which referred to the May 31 ceasefire proposal as one “which Israel accepted” and “calls upon Hamas to also accept it and urges both parties to implement its terms without delay and without conditions”.

The resolution then elaborates the three phases of the ceasefire proposal in similar terms to Biden’s May 31 announcement.

Israel is not a Security Council member and could not vote, but nevertheless its ambassador stated that Israel rejected this resolution, saying it ran counter to Israel’s goals. Netanyahu continued to publicly insist on Israel’s goal of “total victory” in Gaza. Adding confusion, the US leaked what they said was Israel’s detailed response to the proposals put forward by US and Arab mediators. It differed principally in that it only offered a limited withdrawal in phase one and that a complete withdrawal of its forces would only occur in phase two subject to negotiations —none of which were in either the Biden plan or the UN resolution.

For its part, Hamas largely accepted the announced “Biden plan” and the UN Resolution with some caveats (e.g., that the ceasefire be “permanent” and complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza).

While the gaps might have been the subject of further negotiations, it was confounding to hear US Secretary of State Blinken say “Israel accepted the proposal as it was.” Adding “Hamas could have answered with a single word: ‘Yes’.”

Serious questions that require answers remain: What exactly was the “deal” — what the White House announced or what Netanyahu called the “actual” proposal? If Israel’s disagreements with the plan were known to the US, why were Security Council members asked to vote on a resolution that claimed it had Israel’s acceptance? If the goal was to pressure both Israel and Hamas, why not put the deal forward as a US and Arab negotiators’ plan and demand both Israel and Hamas accept it? And, finally, why the confusion? Or was it intentional deception?

The writer is president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute.

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