Press Releases An OP ED by Ambassador Marc Otte, BIC President, and EU’s Former Special Representative for the Middle East Peace

An OP ED by Ambassador Marc Otte, BIC President, and EU’s Former Special Representative for the Middle East Peace

A Ceasefire in Gaza and the Day After

Almost 2 months after the glimmer of hope cast by the November 24th truce in Gaza, a tentative first step to quell hostilities, has been swiftly extinguished. In a distressing turn, the ceasefire proved unsustainable, lasting a mere week. Against the backdrop of a catastrophic situation in Gaza, urgency heightens for sustained efforts to forge a lasting peace and alleviate suffering on the ground. Mapping a feasible path forward seems nearly impossible now, yet initiating progress necessitates an end to hostilities.

A permanent, long-lasting ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank is paramount for fostering an environment conducive for meaningful negotiations. Ceasefires provide a crucial respite from the logic of violence, allowing humanitarian aid to reach the devastated Gazan communities. By halting hostilities, Israel, Hamas, and other involved parties can shift their focus to diplomatic solutions, opening avenues for dialogue.

Negotiating provides an opportunity for stakeholders to find common ground and work towards a comprehensive and enduring resolution. Implementing a ceasefire would significantly reduce the increasingly high risk of a catastrophic regional conflagration, which is increasingly escalating with the involvement of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthis, and the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt are also direct stakeholders, as well as the USA, the UK and other European countries. The recent killing of Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri in Lebanon and the terrorist attack in Iran at the commemoration of the assassination of commander Qassem Soleimani, having resulted in over 200 casualties, have all been fueling resentment and the risk of an extension of the war’s geographic space, intensity and involved parties.

This is also crucial to restore the credibility of the European Union (EU) and other Western powers in attempts to facilitate a long-term conflict resolution and break its cyclical aspect. A ceasefire must prioritise robust and binding mechanisms to prevent its premature breakdown in accordance with international law. Effective enforcement ensures all parties adhere to commitments, fostering trust and creating a foundation for sustained peace, critical for the success of any conflict resolution effort. Any peace process should include, yet not be limited to the liberation of all hostages and political prisoners, the end of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem included, and the Golan Heights, an end to the mass displacement of Gazans, the full autonomy of the Gaza Strip and a unification of the Palestinian leadership in accordance with a Palestinian roadmap.

Can the EU recharge its facilitator role and reassert prominence on the international stage?

So far, the EU has displayed a concerning lack of political leadership and evident confusion at the beginning of hostilities. Until now, the EU’s position has been primarily centred on advocating for a humanitarian pause rather than a decisive and binding ceasefire. However, the question arises: How can conflicting parties initiate negotiations and meaningful dialogue to end the conflict when there is no strong framework, such as a long-lasting ceasefire in place, possibly facilitated by the EU and other parties? Implementing a successful and long-lasting ceasefire demands more than mere rhetoric; it necessitates the conflicting parties to cease fighting, engage in immediate negotiations, and actively contribute to achieving lasting peace.

For the EU to advocate for a permanent ceasefire, it must transcend its current state of indecision and present a united front backed by a robust consensus among member states. This would entail committing to a comprehensive diplomatic initiative that involves all relevant parties, extending beyond the immediate conflict actors to include crucial regional powers like China, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The EU’s current lack of clarity and assertiveness raises serious questions about its ability to play a meaningful role in resolving conflicts and underscores the urgent need for a more decisive, balanced and coherent stance.

Nevertheless, with the strong backing of the vast majority of EU countries, the UN General Assembly’s emergency session for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza successfully secured a decisive majority vote—a crucial initial move towards consensus within the EU.

The Day After?

Post-conlict scenarios demand concise yet comprehensive strategies. Given the extensive destruction in Gaza, including housing, infrastructure, and crucial facets of civilian life, achieving the coordination needed for governance function arrangements in a post-war context may be exceptionally challenging.

Reconstructing governance in the aftermath of extensive destruction emerges as a monumental task, set against the backdrop of chaos and ruin that currently characterises the landscape in Gaza. In this context, the imperative is clear: a coordinated and comprehensive approach is essential to reconstructing governance structures and not merely aiming for a return to the status quo. This should entail a clear opposition to Netanyahu’s suggestion of an extended Israeli occupation and of imposing a buffer zone to keep Palestinians away from the Israeli border in post-Hamas Gaza.

Accountability for war crimes as well as for crimes against humanity and genocide is of utmost importance for any post-conflict scenario. The International Criminal Court (ICC) plays a crucial role in holding individuals from all sides responsible for their actions. Upholding justice ensures that perpetrators are held accountable. It is of utmost importance that the EU’s long-standing support for the ICC is put into action in giving the political support for prosecutor Karim Khan to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity, and keep an eye on the “serious risks of genocide” since October 7. The stakes are particularly high at this moment, as South Africa has initiated a case alleging genocidal intent against Israel in Gaza at the International Court of Justice. Public hearings for this case took place on January 11th and 12th.The case should receive unanimous support from the EU, given the obligations that Member States have under the Genocide Convention, to which they have all acceded.

Achieving a two-state solution requires clear borders, mutual recognition, and a commitment to coexistence. Post-conflict trauma management is vital, addressing psychological distress and implementing support systems. Territorial negotiations should prioritize equity based on the existing agreements. The “day after” vision must encompass social, cultural, and economic dimensions, involving the Palestinian population, the youth, and the people most closely concerned for sustained commitment. Success lies in a holistic approach, ensuring a stable, prosperous post-conflict Palestine.

Yet, prior to attaining a lasting resolution, it is crucial to urgently enforce a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank—a term of paramount significance. Without sustainability, the promising spark ignited on November 24th risks being once again extinguished.

Given the current circumstances and the failure of the UN Security Council to pass a ceasefire resolution due to the US veto, the Brussels International Center and Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), Mounir SATOURI and Tineke STRIK, representing Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance; Barry ANDREWS, representing Renew Europe Group; Matjaž NEMEC, representing S&D, urge the European Commission, European Council and the European External Action Service to take a unified position towards an urgent, sustainable, and enduring ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank. The situation demands immediate attention, and we are emphatically calling for a cessation of hostilities that not only addresses the present crisis but also paves the way for a lasting peace in the region.

This urgent appeal underscores the importance of sustainable solutions that extend beyond short-term alleviation. The Brussels International Center and the mentioned MEPs recognize the gravity of the situation and stand united in their call for the EU’s concerted efforts towards a ceasefire that is not only immediate but also capable of fostering long-term stability and peace in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.

About the BIC

The BIC is an independent, non-profit, think-and-do tank based in the capital of Europe that is committed to developing solutions to address the cyclical drivers of insecurity, economic fragility, and conflict the Middle East and North Africa. Our goal is to bring added value to the highest levels of political discourse by bringing systemic issues to the forefront of the conversation.

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