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Ceasefire Talks “Precarious” as Israel’s Assault on Gaza Kills 80+ in 24 Hours

Palestine analyst Tahani Mustafa discusses the negotiations, UNRWA’s collapsing operations, and more.

As Israel continues its relentless bombardment and siege of Gaza, where hunger and dehydration have reached deadly levels, Hamas has accused Israel of “thwarting” efforts to reach a ceasefire deal. A Hamas delegation in Cairo said that Israel has insisted on rejecting elements of a deal for a phased process that would culminate in an end to Israel’s assault on Gaza, as well as ensuring the entry of aid and facilitating the return of displaced Palestinians back to their homes in Gaza. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is pushing Hamas to accept the terms on the table, claiming that a “rational” offer had been made for a six-week truce in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages. The White House statements seem to be “a very politically calculated move so that they can essentially point the blame at Hamas if this fails,” says Tahani Mustafa, senior Palestine analyst at the International Crisis Group. Mustafa also provides updates on UNRWA’s collapsing operations, repression in the West Bank and the utility of international law for Palestine today.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: A Hamas delegation that was in Cairo for ceasefire talks has left Egypt, accusing Israel of, quote, “thwarting” efforts to reach a deal. Talks are expected to resume next week. Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters that Israel is insisting on rejecting elements of a deal for a phased process that would culminate in an end to Israel’s assault on Gaza, as well as ensuring the entry of aid and facilitating the return of displaced Palestinians back to their homes in Gaza.

Negotiators from Hamas, Qatar and Egypt — but not Israel — were in Cairo trying to secure a 40-day ceasefire in time for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins early next week. With the talks at an impasse and only set to resume next week, that unofficial deadline for a deal appears highly unlikely.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, President Biden urged Hamas to accept the terms on the table and claimed that a rational offer had been made for a ceasefire in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages. Biden told reporters, “It’s in the hands of Hamas right now. If we get to the circumstance that it continues to Ramadan, it’s going be very dangerous,” Biden said.

As the talks have been underway, Israel has continued its relentless bombardment of Gaza, killing over 80 people in the last 24 hours. The death toll after nearly five months of the assault is at at least 30,800 killed and nearly 73,000 wounded. Meanwhile, hunger has reached catastrophic levels as a result of Israel’s siege. At least 20 Palestinians have died from malnutrition and dehydration, according to the Health Ministry.

For more, we’re joined by Tahani Mustafa, senior Palestine analyst at the International Crisis Group. She’s normally based in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank but is joining us today from Doha, Qatar, where she’s attending a symposium on Palestine organized by Georgetown University.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Tahani. Can you start off by talking about the situation on the ground and these ceasefire talks? Hamas is saying that Israel sabotaged the talks, and Hamas has left Cairo. And then we’re getting word that, actually, some negotiations are still underway.

TAHANI MUSTAFA: So, I think negotiations at the moment are very precarious. We’ve seen that the ceasefire deal, or at least what is being offered by Israel and the U.S., who, by the way, have unilaterally come up with some of these conditions rather than actually effectively engaged with Hamas — it appears to be a very politically calculated move so that they can essentially point the blame at Hamas if this fails. But what we’ve seen in these proposals that have been offered is that they offer very little to both Hamas and Gaza. There is no guarantee in terms of aid, how much aid will be let in. Already Israel is claiming that they are allowing sufficient amounts of aid, contrary to what even human rights organizations are saying, so that we’ve already seen that they are tampering with reality there.

And there’s also the concern, and rightly so, that this will simply — I mean, in terms of what has been offered, is a six-week pause, is what Israel and the U.S. is offering. And so, for Hamas and for Gazans, they basically see that as a pause in the killing machine, essentially, where Hamas hands over those hostages, surrenders all the cards at its disposal, and then the killing machine just resumes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tahani, could you explain why — what’s remarkable about the talks, one of the things, is that Israel has, in fact, refused to participate in the talks that were held in Cairo, saying that Hamas must present a list of 40 elderly, sick and female hostages who would be the first to be released as part of a truce. So, could you explain what the obstacles are to revealing such a list and why Hamas is hesitant to do so?

TAHANI MUSTAFA: It’s not necessarily hesitancy. It’s the difficulty in terms of trying to gauge how many hostages are actually alive, especially given that Hamas is not holding all of those hostages. So, you know, there could be — there could very well be hostages being held captive by other groups. Now, given, obviously, the difficulty in terms of movement due to the Israeli onslaught, it’s made it very difficult to gather any concrete numbers, especially in terms of how many of those are actually alive. So, it’s more the logistics of being able to actually provide a proper confirmed list that’s holding Hamas back.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tahani, what are the risks of an agreement not being reached next week? Because, initially, there were concerns that Israel would then go ahead with its Rafah invasion.

TAHANI MUSTAFA: Next week marks the beginning of Ramadan. You know, for the last couple of years now, we’ve seen that Ramadan has been an incredibly provocative time. May 2021 marked the previous cross-border conflict between Israel and Hamas, and that had nothing to do with events in Gaza and everything to do with provocations we saw in places like East Jerusalem.

If we don’t see — which we’re not, most likely, going to end up seeing — a ceasefire or some kind of pause before Ramadan, given the escalation of violence, given temperatures on the ground, you know, this could be catastrophic, not just for Gaza in terms of what this also then means about a looming invasion of Rafah, which Israeli analysts are warning is not a matter of “if” but “when,” but also in places like the West Bank and even East Jerusalem, where Israel has so far claimed that it’s not going to limit access to places like the Al-Aqsa compound, but we have seen in the past that it has actually done that, and often this has been very arbitrary in terms of the times and conditions that they’ve put in terms of limitations on access, but, more importantly, how that has led, especially in the last two years, to severe escalations of violence.

AMY GOODMAN: In the next segment, we’re going to talk more extensively about this Washington Post exposé that says that the U.S. has flooded Israel quietly with about a hundred weapons transfers, that have not been, most of them, approved by Congress, overwhelmingly. Can you talk about the significance of President Biden saying, “We must get more aid into Gaza. There are no excuses. None,” yet at the same time the thing that’s stopping this, the Israeli bombardment, the stopping of the aid groups, the U.S. has supported when it comes to Gaza, backed up by bombs, missiles and ammunition?

TAHANI MUSTAFA: Well, precisely. I mean, that very much nails it on the head, is that the U.S. has done very little in terms of putting any pressure on Israel to limit some of the violence on the ground, limit the intensity of its military campaign. And at the same time, it’s now complaining that there aren’t any sufficient aid routes.

The U.S. has the leverage to ensure that there are sufficient aid routes. The U.S. has the leverage to ensure that Israel abides by the provisional measures set out by the ICJ when it has claimed that Israel has a case to answer for when it comes to genocide. But it simply hasn’t done that. There is absolutely no red lines, no pressure being put on Israel. And worse yet, we’re seeing things like these sorts of aid drops where even in terms of nutritional value and sufficiency, I mean, they don’t even come close to meeting the needs of most Gazans in the north. I mean, it’s honestly — I mean, it’s more of a kind of posturing of U.S. ineffectual diplomacy more than anything.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tahani, you’re normally based — apart from what’s going on in Gaza, if you could talk about what the situation in the occupied West Bank has been since October 7th?

TAHANI MUSTAFA: I mean, the situation has been incredibly dire. And, unfortunately, given all the media attention on Gaza, there hasn’t really been much focus in terms of a lot of the violations that have been happening in the West Bank, where we have — in the first month alone, we saw an uptick in Israeli settler violence, where we saw something like 15 Palestinian communities displaced, where we saw the West Bank being put under an economic siege, which has lasted until today, by the way. There have been restrictions on movement, where you’ve had the PA’s administrative capital cut off from the northern part of the West Bank due to the erection of makeshift checkpoints and road closures and roadblocks.

Worse yet, you’ve seen, prior to the 7th of October, I mean, most of the flashpoints in the West Bank were primarily in the north, in places like Jenin and Nablus. Now that has pretty much spread across the board. You’re seeing places where militancy was not an issue prior to the 7th of October pop up, in places like Tubas, in places like Hebron. Worse yet, you are seeing similar images to where you’ve seen the destruction of localities in Gaza, where you’re now seeing those exact same images, but on a smaller scale, in places like Jenin refugee camp, in places like Tulkarm refugee camp, where Israeli soldiers have gone in and razed these localities, these neighborhoods, to the ground, where they have destroyed electricity lines, sanitation, water, cultural centers, which used serve as a form of civic expression and mechanisms for younger Palestinians to vent their frustrations in more peaceful forms, right? But you’ve seen younger generations now being swayed more towards, out of necessity, militancy and armed resistance, and where these neighborhoods have practically become uninhabitable.

So, you know, you’ve seen a significant uptick in terms of the violence, not just from settlers, but Israeli soldiers. From the 7th of October until now, until today, in the West Bank alone, we’ve seen something like 420 Palestinians killed, and the majority of those have been through search-and-arrest operations and targeted assassinations.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the reported parts of the ceasefire are hostages released, as well as Palestinian prisoners. Talk about the number of Palestinians who have been arrested just since October 7th — for example, in the occupied West Bank. Is it something like, well, over 7,000? How many of them are children? How many of them are under 18? And what have they been charged with?

TAHANI MUSTAFA: Well, the majority of those that have been arrested are — something like 7,000 — a significant proportion of those are children, you know, people under the age of 18. And in terms of charge, I mean, that’s the point. They haven’t been charged with anything. This is administrative detention, where they can be held indefinitely without charge or trial. And that can range from any kind of activity, whether it’s liking a Facebook post or simply expressing any kind of solidarity with Gaza. The Israelis don’t really need any legitimate excuse or reasoning to arrest people in the West Bank. These have been very arbitrary arrests. And, I mean, these arrests can range between 50 to 100 a day, are some of the figures we’ve seen, since the start of the 7th of October.

And I think it’s worth reminding your viewers that this is on a population that had nothing to do with the events of the 7th of October. The PA President Mahmoud Abbas came out immediately after the attacks of the 7th of October and condemned both Hamas and armed resistance, claiming that armed resistance was not a means toward self-determination. And yet we have seen the collective punishment upon reaped a population that, as I said, had nothing to do with the events of the 7th of October.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Tahani, could you explain? I mean, there have been a number of Gaza detainees, 27, who have died in custody. If you could explain, you know, how many you know of and who these people are?

TAHANI MUSTAFA: Again, these arrests are incredibly arbitrary. You know, they have been, effectively, arresting men, women, children. We’ve seen Israeli soldiers, quite literally, posting the images and videos of themselves torturing and arresting and withholding, again, young men, women, children on social media accounts like Telegram, TikTok, you know, posting a lot of these, what amount to, effectively, war crimes on social media, which really goes to show the level of impunity that Israel knows that it can get away with.

And as I said, these arrests have been very arbitrary. These people often are not affiliated to Hamas. In fact, if anything, I think a couple of months ago we saw — and this was actually something surprisingly called out by Western media — the way that Israel tried to doctor those images to show that they were militants, when in fact they weren’t. So, many of those that have been arrested are regular Gazan civilians that have absolutely no affiliation to any particular political faction.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about South Africa once again going to the International Court of Justice, taking additional — asking it to take additional emergency measures in Gaza, including ordering a ceasefire. Of course, South Africa brought the genocide case against Israel before the court, but said, “The threat of all-out famine has now materialized. The court needs to act now to stop the imminent tragedy.” Tahani?

TAHANI MUSTAFA: I mean, look, I think, in practice, you know, international law is useless. It’s only as useful as the powerful allow it to be. And, you know, in many ways, the ICJ hearings have been empowering, in the sense that this is the first time where Israel has been held to account in the decadeslong luxury of impunity that it has been able to get away with. But at the same time, we have seen that since the ICJ ordered Israel to take provisional measures, it has failed to do so. And worse yet, there has been absolutely no pressure to ensure that Israel do so. We saw the defunding of organizations like UNRWA, which have been the primary source of things like aid and assistance to those on the ground. We have seen, you know, I think something like over 15,000, if not 20,000, Palestinians killed since the ICJ issuing of provisional measures. And we’ve seen absolutely no pressure on Israel to try and settle for a ceasefire or any kind of pause.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to ask about UNRWA. Canada says it will resume funding to the agency, after it halted support in January following Israeli claims that 12 staff were involved in the October 7th attack. Could you talk about what’s happening with funding for the agency and what the impact has been of so many countries pulling out, including the U.S., which is the largest funder, or was?

TAHANI MUSTAFA: Well, right now UNRWA is holding on by a thread. We have seen some resumption of funding and some extra funding coming in from various other sources, but UNRWA is really holding onto a thread. And the worst part about this is that there is absolutely no organization that is capable of filling that void. You know, there have been attempts to try and get organizations like the World Food Programme, but they simply don’t have the capacity to do what UNRWA does. You know, no organization is as embedded into the civic infrastructure of Gaza the way that UNRWA is. And more importantly, it cannot — it cannot substitute for most of the services that UNRWA provides, something by the WFP’s own admission. So, right now, you know, UNRWA is really holding on by a thread and the consequences of any kind of potential drying up of funds, which hopefully it won’t come to that, but if it does, it will be incredibly catastrophic.

AMY GOODMAN: Tahani, we just have a minute, but we wanted to ask you about Benny Gantz, part of the Israel war cabinet, going — unauthorized, apparently, by Netanyahu — to Washington, meeting with Blinken, meeting with Vice President Harris, Netanyahu telling the Israeli Embassy apparently not to cooperate with this, what he called, unauthorized trip. Are you seeing a split that could take down Netanyahu?

TAHANI MUSTAFA: There certainly has been a split within the Israeli administration. And that has been something that is starting to surface over the last couple of months between the political and military establishment, but even internally within the political establishment. Obviously, the welcoming of Gantz is substantial for Israeli politics. Again, you know, it is a sign of U.S. ineffectual diplomacy, whereby to reiterate their discontent with Netanyahu’s policies, they’re now welcoming and engaging with an opposition politician.

But again, that does nothing to really change the reality on the ground for Palestinians. Nothing came out of that meeting, where Israel was — you know, there were no red lines laid in terms of what Israel can and can’t do in Gaza. There as again no pressure being put on Israel. Simply, you know, reaffirming your discontent with Netanyahu’s strategy at the moment by engaging with an opposition politician isn’t enough to actually change the reality on the ground for Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: Tahani Mustafa, we want to thank you for being with us, senior Palestine analyst at the International Crisis Group. She’s normally based in the occupied West Bank in Ramallah but is joining us today from Doha at a symposium that she’s attending on Palestine, organized by Georgetown Qatar.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a new Washington Post exposé finds he White House has flooded Israel with more than a hundred separate weapons sales, almost all without congressional approval. We’ll talk to a State Department official who quit over U.S. foreign policy when it comes to Israel-Palestine. Stay with us.

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