Is the US lying about Hamas blocking Israel peace deal in Gaza?

Joe Biden has sought to blame Hamas for the failure of his ceasefire proposal [Getty]

On 31 May US President Joe Biden announced what he described a “comprehensive Israeli proposal” for bringing an end to its war on Gaza.

Biden outlined a three-phase proposal that would see a captive exchange deal that would allow for the end of military operations in Gaza and the withdrawal of its forces from the enclave.

Ever since then, there has been widespread confusion regarding whether the proposal was actually an Israeli one, given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately undermined the central basis of the deal, namely that Israel had agreed to a permanent ceasefire.

On the other side, Hamas unequivocally welcomed Biden’s announcement, only drawing back from full acceptance when it became clear that Israel did not accept a permanent ceasefire.

Although the United States successfully passed the ceasefire proposal at the UN Security Council, it has not been implemented.

What has followed is a campaign from the US blaming Hamas for the failure of the deal, with Joe Biden saying on Thursday that “the biggest hang-up so far is Hamas refusing to sign on”.

But is this really the case? Are Hamas really the ones blocking the deal?

The New Arab answers these questions and, more generally, looks at what’s happening with the ceasefire deal and its prospects for success.

The devil’s in the details

As has been mentioned, Hamas did not reject the deal as presented by Biden on May 31. Last week, Hamas official Ghazi Hamad explained that they went to Doha to accept the deal, but then were perplexed to find out “that Biden’s speech was interpreted differently by Israel”.

The group also compiled a report of ways in which the ceasefire proposal presented by Biden vastly differed from what was actually being offered to the group.

Specifically, Israel did not accept a permanent ceasefire or the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza.

However, there’s another aspect to this that has been obscured by the US and much of the media. Biden, on Thursday, and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken the day before, referenced the fact that Hamas had accepted the “very similar” Egyptian-Qatari peace deal of 6 May, which Israel rejected.

And this is where the devil is in the details.

Unlike the 6 May proposal, the US-Israel proposal essentially gives Israel an escape route after phase one of the deal.

Biden’s plan calls for negotiations during Phase One to lead to a permanent ceasefire. He and the Security Council noted that if negotiations require more time, Phase One and its temporary ceasefire will be extended as needed.

However, the plan also stipulates that if Israel determines Hamas is not negotiating “in good faith”, it can resume its devastating military assault on Gaza. There is no established criteria for what “in good faith” could mean, which allows Israel to unilaterally end the ceasefire with implicit US support.

The 6 May plan, by contrast, stipulated that the transition between Phase One and Phase Two would see the release of all captives in a prisoner exchange deal and a permanent ceasefire.

Israeli rejectionism, US obscurantism

When the above is combined with the fact that Israel has reacted to even this watered-down peace deal with open belligerence, Hamas has every right to be concerned.

Israel has said it will not agree to any deal that prohibits it from completing its war aims of “destroying Hamas”, which means it needs to be able to wage war on Gaza indefinitely.

Israel has said in no uncertain terms that it does not support a permanent ceasefire, yet US officials have attempted to put the blame on Hamas, obscuring and ignoring Israel’s blatant rejectionism.

Given the US claimed that the deal Biden advertised on 31 May was an “Israeli proposal”, there are now serious questions around the veracity of this, given Israe immediately rejected its central provision of a permanent ceasefire.

Add into this the fact that the US played a direct role in the Nuseirat massacre of 8 June, during which at least 276 Palestinians were killed during an Israeli operation to release captives, many are questioning the US’s commitment to peace.

Why is the US blaming Hamas?

The most obvious answer to this is bias.

The US is not a neutral arbiter between Israelis and Palestinians, but is Israel’s primary ally and funder, with its legislative body united in unquestioning support for Israel. The US is complicit in Israel’s war and, though there have been notable points of disagreement between the allies during the war on Gaza, the US has ultimately supported Israel at every turn.

However, there are also other factors. Biden’s total support for Israel is not as well received by the American people as it is among most of the political class. In an election year, Biden needs to maximise votes in what is expected to be a close-run contest with Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Some believe that Biden’s concoction of this ceasefire proposal allows him to pose as a peacemaker, while being able to absolve himself of responsibility if the proposal doesn’t come to pass.

With a mostly compliant media, Biden can blame Hamas, keeping Israel and its strong lobby within the Democrats happy, while, even if it does pass, the deal allows Israel the flexibility to break it at any time.

What happens now?

On Saturday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that mediators for Qatar and Egypt plan to engage Hamas soon to see if there is a way to push ahead with the ceasefire proposal.

However, Sullivan also said that the US had examined Hamas’s reaction to the proposal and claimed parts of it were not in line with the proposal. However, we know that Hamas’s primary demand is a permanent ceasefire. This begs the question of what exactly the US is negotiating over? Is it negotiating solely over Phase One, which still allows Israel to continue its war? 

Israel has openly said it wants a deal that allows captives to be freed and for it to be able to continue its war. If the US is really committed to a deal that leads to a permanent ceasefire, it should be pressuring Israel, as opposed to blaming Hamas.

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