Photo: Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Jan. 9, 2024. Credit: U.S. State Department
In the last weekend of January, intelligence officials from Israel, the United States, and Egypt, along with Qatari authorities met in Paris, France, to discuss a proposal for a truce between Israel and the Palestinian resistance.
The possibility of a pause in Israel’s non-stop bombing of Gaza, which in the past four months has killed over 27,000 people, including 10,000 children, has been met with cautious optimism by many who have watched Israel carry out innumerable atrocities, with what seems like complete impunity.
However, a deeper look at the details of the proposal paints a much less optimistic picture. As contradictory news reports emerge of the proposal and its future, it is crucial to understand what is on the table and what implications it has for the people of Palestine.
The Paris proposal is not a ceasefire agreement, but a humanitarian pause broken into three phases.
The first phase would see a 45-day pause in all hostilities along with the release of all Israeli hostages in Gaza who are under the age of 19 or wounded, in exchange for an agreed-upon number of Palestinian prisoners.
The number of days of the pause in the second phase has not been determined, but it envisages the release of Israeli military personnel, in exchange for an agreed-upon number of Palestinian prisoners, and an increase in the amount of aid flowing into Gaza. According to a report in Al Akbar, there has also been talk of the second phase including the withdrawal of Israeli forces from dense residential areas, the creation of a no-fly zone in Gaza, and a guarantee for the return of displaced Palestinians in Rafah to Northern Gaza and Gaza city.
The focus of the third phase is to be on the exchange of bodies of the dead for the release of more Palestinian prisoners. This phase would also include a provision to begin dialogue to potentially reach a permanent ceasefire.
The Paris proposal has been met with apprehension from people across Palestine and supporters of the Palestinian cause. Mahmoud*, a Palestinian left leader told me, “First and foremost, we have to name (sic) that the Paris proposal is an Israeli proposal in contradiction with the demands of the resistance.”
The demands which have been outlined by Hamas spokespersons over the past four months and ratified by the other Palestinian resistance factions, have been completely disregarded in this proposal. The most essential of these are a permanent end to the Israeli aggression in Gaza, the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, the lifting of the 18-year siege on Gaza, and for the unlimited entry of aid, including for the enclave’s rebuilding. Following the fulfillment of these demands, they call for a negotiation for the “all for all” prisoners swap.
For Mahmoud, not only are these demands not addressed in the proposal or left undefined, as is the case with the entry of aid and the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released in each phase, but some of the terms would actually see Israel “trying to achieve politically and diplomatically, what they couldn’t achieve militarily.”
For instance, while the agreement would possibly provide for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from major roads and urban areas, they would remain in other areas. “This means that they’re going to maintain control over positions inside the Gaza Strip that they plan to turn into a buffer zone,” Mahmoud explained.
He emphasized, “This proposal would be a huge loss for the Palestinian people. Four months of fighting, the killing of more than 30,000 people, and the destruction of tens of thousands of homes and infrastructure to just reach a temporary ceasefire without freeing the prisoners, or changing or improving the conditions that Palestinians lived under prior to October 7 — I don’t think that such an agreement would be accepted by the majority of the Palestinian parties or people, and it will be met with resistance.”
Israel faces pressure
Netanyahu’s war cabinet is currently reviewing the proposal to determine some of the undefined provisions and the future of its war on Gaza. Meanwhile, Israeli officials have had varying responses to their own proposal, with some far-right ministers publicly rejecting it and for that matter, any pause in the country’s military campaign.
The reality is that Israel is facing a tremendous amount of pressure to end its genocidal war. At the international level, more and more world leaders are joining humanitarian organizations and the United Nations in condemning Israel and calling for an immediate ceasefire. Israel is also facing regional pressure, as Yemeni, Lebanese, and Iraqi resistance groups have been launching different types of operations against it in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The regional dynamic of the war is likely to escalate with the United States conducting retaliatory strikes against these groups.
While Netanyahu and other ministers are defiant in the face of the ruling of the International Court of Justice and resolutions of the United Nations calling for a ceasefire, the Israeli government also faces significant challenges domestically. A key source of pressure are the families of the hostages who have demanded that Netanyahu’s government reach a prisoner exchange deal at any cost.
Added to this is the fact that despite the destruction and bloodshed which it has unleashed, Israel has still failed to achieve its military objectives in Gaza — the complete destruction of the resistance and infrastructure, and the return of the hostages without negotiations and through a military operation.
“Four months later, they haven’t realized any of these goals and their forces are exhausted,” Mahmoud told me. He explained, “All of these reasons are pushing the Israelis through allies to actually engage in dialogue and reach an agreement that would enable them to be victorious at a certain level. Whatever they couldn’t achieve through the military operation, they are now trying to achieve through political avenues.”
Pressure from the United States, Israel’s biggest political and financial backer, to end fighting in Gaza, is also a significant part of the calculation. Joe Biden’s administration has been under heavy criticism from broad sections of society, including traditional supporters of the Democratic Party, for its stubborn support to Israel. Many analysts predict that Biden’s response to the genocide in Gaza could even cost him reelection in November.
On January 29, just a day after the Paris proposal was first drafted, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, said, “I believe the [Paris] proposal is a strong one and a compelling one that, again, offers some hope that we can get back to this process. But Hamas will have to make its own decisions.”
The Paris proposal is still being reviewed and discussed by both parties and it is likely that in the coming days, they will make announcements regarding the viability and future of the document. As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit the region and has “reiterated the importance of securing a humanitarian pause that includes the release of hostages held by Hamas,” it is likely there will be increased pressure for some version of this proposal to move forward.
However, as Mahmoud stated firmly, “Palestinians are not going to accept any truce if it doesn’t ensure the ending of the siege, if it doesn’t ensure the freedom of our political prisoners, and bettering the conditions inside of Gaza. People on the ground in Gaza and Palestine and the Arab region will not celebrate such a deal that is only about a temporary ceasefire without the [fulfillment of] other demands that the resistance and the Palestinian people rallied behind since the beginning of this battle.”