The total number of Palestinian deaths in Gaza has surpassed 10,000 since the latest round of Hamas-Israel conflict started on October 7, 2023, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged for a humanitarian ceasefire amid the unfolding catastrophe in Gaza that grows more dire with each passing hour. Will a ceasefire be possible? How do external factors, such as unconditional US support of Israel, play into this conflict? What’s the deadlock in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Global Times reporters Xie Wenting and Bai Yunyi (GT) spoke with Ex-Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy (Levy), the president of the US/Middle East Project and got answers to these pressing questions and more.
Daniel Levy Photo: Xie Wenting/GT
GT: Pentagon and some US officials have voiced that they do not support a ceasefire in the current Palestine-Israel conflict, saying that it only benefits Hamas. What’s your take on it?
Levy: The US military and American politicians are in the same place on this, but the US is quite isolated in the world. In this regard, its allies in Europe and Israel have taken a similar position. However, when the United Nations voted for an immediate truce, only 14 countries, including Israel and the US, voted against this resolution.
Now, what is worrying is this statement that only Hamas would benefit from a ceasefire. It’s a very curious statement. We think that approximately 10,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed in Gaza in less than 4 weeks. The accurate number seems to be about 4,000 children. For the Americans to say that only Hamas will benefit suggests that they place no value on Palestinian civilian lives. I believe many people are shocked, including those in the US by the fact that there is such a blatant and transparent position, which values one life differently from another. I think this is a very bad moment for the US on the international stage.
I understand the argument which sets forth that if there is a ceasefire, Israel will not be able to continue its military effort against Hamas. However, there are two things. First, we cannot conduct that military effort in violation of all international norms, laws, and conventions. There are rules even in war. Just like the resistance against an illegal occupation, which is legal, armed resistance is legal against an illegal occupation. But it has rules. So self-defense by Israel also has rules. You cannot pretend that these rules don’t exist. Second, history tells us that if people are kept depressed like this, you cannot defeat them militarily. It’s a very counterproductive and dangerous American position.
GT: Based on your analysis, what is likely to happen in the coming days? What’s the worst scenario that you fear may happen?
Levy: It’s an interesting question. In recent days, Israel has proceeded with its ground operation inside Gaza. ?The reason it is incredibly congested and densely populated with Palestinians in such a confined area is due to the fact that Israel forcefully relocated the Palestinians to this region between 1947 and 1949.
What is Israel aiming to achieve? They have surrounded Gaza City, dividing it. Israeli military officials have stated that they may need to remain in Gaza for three months to carry out military operations. Afterward, there would be a residual presence, with Israel potentially remaining in Gaza for another nine months. This suggests that the Israelis lack a clear plan.
We tend to think of the Israeli military as a very strategic and powerful force, which it certainly is. Israel is an undeclared nuclear power with nuclear arms, and it receives guaranteed support from the US for acquiring the most sophisticated weaponry. Israel also has its own arms industry.
However, it came as quite a shock that Israel’s security doctrine is based on deterrence, which includes early warning and military preponderance for domination. This security doctrine is unlikely to succeed if they continue to try to maintain permanent control over another people, especially considering the opposition they face from much of the region. As a result, this security doctrine is bound to collapse. Although they may attempt to reassert it, it is destined to fail.
No one in Israel is providing an answer to the question you asked. Do they think they will stay there permanently? Will Palestinians allow for some outside force to come and take control? An outside force may want to intervene. Therefore, there is no real answer, suggesting a high level of dysfunction in Israeli strategic thinking. It seems their plan is to inflict as much damage as possible until the world intervenes, and then reassess the situation.
However, we must also acknowledge that the individuals currently leading this operation in Israel have been greatly discredited due to what happened on October 7. This significant failure and terrible incident have led to the assumption that there will be an inquiry into what occurred on that day. Consequently, many people may be forced out of their positions. These individuals are prolonging the war because once it ends, their personal careers will come to an end as well.
GT: Do you still see a possible ceasefire in the near future?
Levy: The pressure for a ceasefire might grow more quickly. Maybe Israel will manage to keep going for so long, but it’s very risky because the longer it goes on in Gaza, the more likely there will be a regional explosion.
There have been exchanges between local militias and either American or Israeli forces. The US has positioned its warships off the coast, so the US could get dragged into this war. Iran could also get dragged into this war. The rest of the world is looking at this and saying we have quite a lot of crises.
Besides, there are other arguments as to why there may be a ceasefire sooner rather than later. First, things are deteriorating across the rest of the Palestinian arena in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Second, civilian casualties are reaching alarming levels. Third, this conflict is causing the US and the West to appear increasingly isolated. Fourth, the more destruction inflicted upon Gaza, the more challenging it will be to rebuild the region. Fifth, Israel lacks a plan for the aftermath of the conflict. Therefore, there are numerous reasons why a ceasefire is becoming more likely. Lastly, the longer the war persists, the less feasible it becomes to release the prisoners held in Gaza, increasing the likelihood of their death.
However, the US is not forcing Israel into a ceasefire at the moment. Israel remains angry, vengeful, and confused. It is not agreeing to a ceasefire, but I think this dynamic can shift. Many people are asking the question: How long can Israel maintain its reservists away from their employment? Much of the Israeli economy is at a standstill. Israel is beginning to lose soldiers in Gaza. The deaths of Israeli soldiers increase every day. These are the two tensions. There is a lot of criticism inside the US, within Biden’s own party, that he is not pushing for a ceasefire. So it’s possible that Israel will have several more weeks, but it’s also very likely that the pressure will increase to end this sooner.
GT: You once were an Israeli peace negotiator. Over the years, the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been in a prolonged deadlock and even marginalized. What do you think are the reasons behind this?
Levy: There were basic parameters outlined for a deal, which would not be an ideal solution. Essentially, the idea was for Palestinians to accept a state in only 22 percent of the former mandate area, as Palestine had been colonized and Israel had established its own settler colony. The agreement entailed Israel’s withdrawal, allowing for the creation of a Palestinian state. Due to the US’ significant influence and strong relationship with Israel, it was expected that the US would ensure the achievement of this deal. However, this never materialized. Instead, Israel continued to place more and more illegal settlers in the land designated for the Palestinian state.
If you are occupying another territory, there are rules. There is international law. You are not allowed to move your civilian population into the territory. Israel violated this and many other international laws. So, instead of securing this deal, Israel continued to deepen the occupation. For the Palestinians, the main Palestinian faction, Fatah, which is the other party to Hamas, controlled the piano. The people who made the deal with Israel expected to get a state and stopped using armed struggle, negotiating instead. They became less and less credible in the eyes of their own people because things kept getting worse. So, Hamas kept getting stronger.
When we were negotiating, we understood some of these dynamics. We thought we could achieve a deal. To be honest, quite often we were negotiating with ourselves because there were different views on the Israeli side. You had a more pragmatic, realist Israeli position. You had a more ideological Israeli position or maximalist Israeli position. We never put forward a deal that would have led to peace, and the Americans, instead of ensuring it happened, actually made sure Israel was not held accountable when Israel refused to pursue the peaceful option. So, this is how it collapsed, but it has been collapsed now for a long time.
For a long time, there have been no serious peace efforts. What we hear are people saying “two states,” but these words are meaningless. There is no accountability for Israel in preventing the establishment of two states. Furthermore, the situation on the ground has worsened. The collapse of the international architecture is evident, as the process has been monopolized by the US. Occasionally, the Quartet (comprising the UN, EU, Russia, and the US) has been involved, and sometimes Arab states have participated. However, the US and Israel have consistently worked to marginalize the Quartet, paralyze the UN Security Council, and improve Arab-Israeli relations without addressing the Palestinian issue.
All of these things were not serious. All of these things made peace less likely. All of those things were proof that we need a different international architecture. This can’t be left just to the US.
GT: From your point of view, what is the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue?
Levy: There are four main points to consider. First, Palestinian politics is dysfunctional and not representative of its people. The opportunity to include Hamas within the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was hindered by the interference of countries like the US and Israel. Therefore, it is crucial to allow Palestinians to rebuild their political system and remove any obstacles. Friendly third countries should support and encourage this process, as the collapse of Palestinian politics has contributed to the current situation.
Second, if Israel believes it can act without consequences, it will continue to do so. The US’ guarantee of Israeli impunity and lack of accountability has fostered a culture of war and excessive actions by Israel. This has led to strategic miscalculations, as Israel believed it could control millions of Palestinians without granting them rights or a state, which many consider to be an apartheid system.
Israel’s confidence in its actions stems from the assurance provided by the US. So the second thing that needs to happen is for Israel to understand that there is a choice to be made and that there are costs for continuing to treat the Palestinians like this.
Third, we cannot leave this just to the US. We need this to be recognized as a major global crisis. The Israeli-Palestinian issue is part of the global crisis. This is not a marginal issue. We need other states, such as the G20 or the BRICS, parts of the Global South, and parts of the Arab world, to get more engaged so that there is some balance in how America manages this issue. We need a new contact group or a new architecture. This is true of many things in the world, but it is now particularly true of this crisis.
Finally, with the involved parties themselves, we need to clarify that the traditional position is for two states, but the international community is open to considering other ideas as long as they recognize the rights and equality of all people. We must encourage the parties to see each other as human beings and to acknowledge the reality of their situation.
Some may argue that Israel cannot negotiate until Hamas is destroyed, while others may question how Palestinians can negotiate with Israel when it has caused the deaths of thousands of children. However, this is the nature of conflict, and the path to stability lies in politics and negotiations. Instead of imposing a solution, we must emphasize that a situation through which one people live with rights and another people live without rights is unacceptable.
If Israel refuses to withdraw its settlements, perhaps a one-state solution could be considered. Similarly, if Palestinians insist on the return of refugees, maybe we can revisit the idea of two states. The key is to provide options and encourage the parties to engage in political discussions. These are my suggestions.