Gershon Baskin
Political and social entrepreneur activist in Israel and Palestine

The Doha negotiations, Hamas’s victory and Israel’s loss

The negotiations for a ceasefire and a hostage deal have resumed in Doha and that is very good. The latest Hamas response includes some signs of flexibility and points to Hamas’s possible desire to reach an agreement. Hamas’s primary interest is to end the war with Hamas still in control of Gaza. One of the Hamas negotiators communicated their proposal as follows:

14 Mar 2024: We want Israel to present clear positions: 1- A permanent ceasefire (possibly in stages), 2- Withdrawal of Israeli forces from the entire Strip (in stages) 3- The return of the displaced to their places of residence.

Israel complains that the number of prisoners requested by Hamas is too high. We said that if we find a positive position on the three issues, we are ready to show great flexibility on the issue of prisoners.

Additional responses of Hamas as presented through Reuters included more details including the release of about 40 hostages – women, children, elderly, and wounded. This includes women soldiers – which is a new development absent from all discussions until now. In exchange, Hamas wants the release of about 1000 Palestinian prisoners including about 100 prisoners serving life sentences. There are conflicting reports on whether or not the 100 life sentence prisoners include the most dangerous, those who have murdered the most Israelis such as Abdallah Barghouthi, Hasan Salameh, and others including Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouthi.

The flexibility in Hamas’s proposal is their apparent agreement to achieve the first phase of the deal without a full Israeli obligation to end the war and withdraw from all of Gaza. This is not entirely clear, but it seems that it might be the case from the text above talking about stages. This will become clearer in the coming days of negotiations.

Israel must make every effort to get all of the hostages home and for the sake of all of us, we have to find a way to end this war. There is little chance of the Netanyahu government agreeing to end the war while the senior Hamas leadership in Gaza is still alive. There is also no willingness in Israel to grant any kind of victory to Hamas, meaning that Hamas stays in power when Israel exits Gaza. As has been said many times by many people other than myself, Netanyahu clearly has the desire to prolong this war as long as possible because his political future is connected to it. When the war ends, the mass demonstrations in Israel will take to the streets demanding new elections and directly placing blame and responsibility on Netanyahu for the failures that led to October 7 and for the failures of October 7 itself. As long as the war is going on, Netanyahu has a kind of protective shield that thus far has been solid enough for him to deflect all of the more than justified criticism of him and his failures. He is, after all, the worst leader that the Jewish people have ever had.

Netanyahu’s conceptual failures since 2009 are obvious to all, including the funding of Hamas and keeping Hamas in power all of these years to prevent any pressure on Israel with regard to the two-state solution. But Netanyahu’s conceptual failures continue almost six months into this war. The failure of Israel to present a political end-game that has the power to challenge Hamas on the ideological front and to enlist the partnership of Israel’s Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, is another colossal error and miscalculation of Netanyahu that leaves the negotiators in Doha, right now, with options that continue to empower Hamas and to weaken the war against it.

The two-state solution is the way to defeat Hamas, which will be supported by the majority of the Palestinian people and all of the moderate Sunni Arab states. There must be a clear and coherent Israeli strategy that recognizes that Gaza must be turned over to Palestinian rule which is in opposition to armed struggle and resistance, understands the danger of radical Islamic rule and is prepared to ensure that there is no armed group in Gaza other than a legitimate Palestinian police-security force. No Palestinian government can achieve stability and security and be legitimate in the eyes of the international community that would be willing to invest in rebuilding Gaza without first having a significant military force entering Gaza at the invitation of the Palestinian government. That military force, with a clear but time-limited mandate, perhaps backed by a decision of the Arab League, should be a multi-national Arab force. But first, there must be a Palestinian leadership that is legitimate in the eyes of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and in Gaza and one that has the authority to govern.

President Abbas appointed a new Prime Minister, Dr. Mohammed Mustafa. I know Dr. Mustafa quite well. He is a decent person who is respected in the international economic world. There is a lot of criticism against him within Palestine by those who see him as being too close to President Abbas and therefore lacking legitimacy. I wish him success, but I doubt that he will be able to build a government that will have the legitimacy to govern. I also doubt that President Abbas will turn over to him enough authority and power to govern. Today the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has very limited authority and power over most of the West Bank and zero power and authority in Gaza. I would venture to guess that the selection of Dr. Mustafa was immediately approved by Netanyahu and his national security advisor because they knew that he would not succeed in creating a government that could actually govern. This is once again, a failure of Netanyahu and just one more example of his bad judgment regarding our future.

There is nothing I want more than for all of the hostages to come home and for this war to end. There is a chance that the Doha negotiations can produce an agreement that will succeed in bringing more hostages home. The negotiators are in a very difficult bind because of the limited mandate that they have and mainly because they have no way of achieving an agreement that does not reward Hamas for the atrocities that they committed. The citizens of Israel have to see and understand this situation and absorb that Netanyahu and his government are bad for Israel. We hear every evening on the news that the army is slowing down, that they are staying in place without progress, that all of the progress made in defeating Hamas militarily is being wasted because there is no political endgame. Israel has lost the support of most of the world and is rapidly losing the support of the United States. There is no way to understand the massive civilian casualties in Gaza of non-combatants and the unexplainable physical ruin that Israel has unleashed on Gaza. None of that can be undone, but it is possible to achieve the political goals of ensuring that Hamas does not rule Gaza and threaten Israel ever again, only through a comprehensive and coherent endgame with political goals. Those goals must include ending Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people, Palestinian statehood, and a regional plan for security, stability and economic cooperation and development.

Right now, we are on the clear path of a lose-lose scenario both for Israel and for Palestine. That is the only scenario possible when the only solution being employed is military. There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are all still living the trauma of October 7 and the months that followed, and I understand if our thinking is still clouded by anger, sadness, pain, and despair. But that is not a plan and we must have a plan. There must be a political solution to this war and to this conflict. It is hard to recognize through the anger and the desire for revenge that a solution is in front of us. But it is there. It is not easy and it requires a lot of work. It will require that we make great efforts to learn from the failures of the past. Unfortunately, none of that will happen until we change our leaders (on both sides). So let’s get to it already!

About the Author
The writer is the Middle East Director of ICO - International Communities Organization - a UK based NGO working in Conflict zones with failed peace processes. Baskin is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He is also a founding member of “Kol Ezraheiha - Kol Muwanteneiha” (All of the Citizens) political party in Israel.
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