As violence continues into a second week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an immediate end to the fighting. But any ceasefire would be short-lived unless it were combined with broader negotiations. The question is which international body or government could take the lead role in such talks.
Guterres said the United Nations was “actively engaging all sides toward an immediate ceasefire” and called on the government of Israel and the Hamas organization “to allow mediation efforts to intensify and succeed.” However, the United Nations has struggled to play its intended role of resolving conflicts diplomatically in the case of Israel-Palestine because of US stonewalling in the Security Council.
At a meeting on Sunday, council members condemned the violence but failed to agree on a public statement. China — the current president of the Security Council — blamed the United States, the lone holdout against the measure. The US State Department declined to comment on the issue.
The United States has previously used its veto and seat on the Security Council to block resolutions and statements on Israel.
Israel is the US’s closest ally in the Middle East, and the United States is a vital source of military aid and equipment for the country. That relationship has always given the US significant leverage in bringing Israel to the negotiating table at times of heightened conflict.
Relations reached a new peak during the presidency of Donald Trump, who carried out measures popular with Israelis — including moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump’s failed peace proposal was very much on Israeli terms and would have recognized settlements in occupied territory as part of Israel.
The Biden administration seems to have been caught on the back foot by the most recent escalation of the conflict. The president had not intended to make the issue a priority after previous administrations — including the Obama administration, in which Joe Biden was the vice president — failed to make headway. The United States currently does not have an ambassador in Israel.
On Saturday, Biden spoke separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. His envoy, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, also arrived in Tel Aviv Saturday.
The Arab League has called for the United States to take a more active role in the Middle East peace process. It remains unclear how quickly the Biden administration can come up with a viable plan for the conflict, which previously had not been one of its priorities.
The European Union’s high representative, Josep Borrell, has called for an immediate end to the violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. EU foreign ministers will meet on Tuesday to discuss recent events.
Borrell said he was in contact with the members of the Middle East Quartet — the United Nations, the US, the EU and Russia — in an effort to deescalate the situation.
The European Union has not traditionally played the lead role in Middle East peace negotiations and has instead focused on humanitarian aid. The EU is the largest single donor to the Palestinian Authority. Through its humanitarian aid department, the European Commission has sent a total of €700 million ($850.65 million) in humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank since 2000.
“The US is playing an active part,” Norbert Röttgen, the chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign policy committee, told the public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Friday. “They immediately dispatched the State Department representative on this issue.” He said the EU played practically no role and could mainly contribute by continuing to provide humanitarian aid.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, passed on November 22, 1967, called for the exchange of land for peace. Since then, many of the attempts to establish peace in the region have referred to 242. The resolution was written in accordance with Chapter VI of the UN Charter, under which resolutions are recommendations, not orders.
A coalition of Arab states, led by Egypt and Syria, fought Israel in the Yom Kippur or October War in October 1973. The conflict eventually led to the secret peace talks that yielded two agreements after 12 days. This picture from March 26, 1979, shows Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, his US counterpart Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin after signing the accords in Washington.
The US and the former Soviet Union came together to organize a conference in the Spanish capital. The discussions involved Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinians — not from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) — who met with Israeli negotiators for the first time. While the conference achieved little, it did create the framework for later, more productive talks.
The negotiations in Norway between Israel and the PLO, the first direct meeting between the two parties, resulted in the Oslo I Accord. The agreement was signed in the US in September 1993. It demanded that Israeli troops withdraw from West Bank and Gaza Strip and a self-governing, interim Palestinian authority be set up for a five-year transitional period. A second accord was signed in 1995.
US President Bill Clinton invited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to the retreat in July 2000 to discuss borders, security, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem. Despite the negotiations being more detailed than ever before, no agreement was concluded. The failure to reach a consensus at Camp David was followed by renewed Palestinian uprising, the Second Intifada.
The Camp David negotiations were followed first by meetings in Washington and then in Cairo and Taba, Egypt — all without results. Later the Arab League proposed the Arab Peace Initiative in Beirut in March 2002. The plan called on Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders so that a Palestinian state could be set up in the West Bank and Gaza. In return, Arab countries would agree to recognize Israel.
The US, EU, Russia and the UN worked together as the Middle East Quartet to develop a road map to peace. While Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas accepted the text, his Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon had more reservations with the wording. The timetable called for a final agreement on a two-state solution to be reached in 2005. Unfortunately, it was never implemented.
In 2007, US President George W. Bush hosted a conference in Annapolis, Maryland, to relaunch the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took part in talks with officials from the Quartet and over a dozen Arab states. It was agreed that further negotiations would be held with the goal of reaching a peace deal by the end of 2008.
In 2010, US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell convinced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to and implement a 10-month moratorium on settlements in disputed territories. Later, Netanyahu and Abbas agreed to relaunch direct negotiations to resolve all issues. Negotiations began in Washington in September 2010, but within weeks there was a deadlock.
A new round of violence broke out in and around Gaza in late 2012. A ceasefire was reached between Israel and those in power in the Gaza Strip, which held until June 2014. The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June 2014 resulted in renewed violence and eventually led to the Israeli military operation Protective Edge. It ended with a ceasefire on August 26, 2014.
Envoys from over 70 countries gathered in Paris, France, to discuss the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu slammed the discussions as “rigged” against his country. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian representatives attended the summit. “A two-state solution is the only possible one,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said at the opening of the event.
Despite the year’s optimistic opening, 2017 brought further stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A deadly summer attack on Israeli police at the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, sparked deadly clashes. Then US President Donald Trump’s plan to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem prompted Palestinian leader Abbas to say “the measures … undermine all peace efforts.”
US President Donald Trump presented a peace plan that freezes Israeli settlement construction but retains Israeli control over most of the illegal settlements it has already built. The plan would double Palestinian-controlled territory but asks Palestinians to cross a red line and accept the previously constructed West Bank settlements as Israeli territory. Palestinians reject the plan.
Plans to evict four families and give their homes in East Jerusalem to Jewish settlers led to escalating violence in May 2021. Hamas fired over 2,000 rockets at Israel, and Israeli military airstrikes razed buildings in the Gaza Strip. The international community, including Germany’s Foreign Ministry, called for an end to the violence and both sides to return to the negotiating table.
Intelligence services in Egypt, which borders Israel to the west, still have good connections to Hamas. Over the weekend Egypt played a part in a mediation effort along with the UN and Qatar to negotiate a two-hour ceasefire to allow fuel to be transported to Gaza’s only power facility. The effort failed after Israel struck the home of Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar.
On Wednesday an Egyptian delegation met with Islamic Palestinian groups in Gaza before going to Tel Aviv on Thursday. Israeli leaders have so far declined a ceasefire agreement, according to Egypt’s government.
On Sunday Netanyahu seemed to confirm that he was not seeking an immediate ceasefire. “We’re trying to degrade Hamas’ terrorist abilities and to degrade their will to do this again,” he told the US broadcaster CBS. “So it will take some time. I hope it won’t take long but it’s not immediate,” he said.