Unqualified support of Israel’s allies over Gaza is no longer a given – with marked shift in rhetoric

Unqualified support of Israel's allies over Gaza is no longer a given - with marked shift in rhetoric

When French President Emmanuel Macron called for a ceasefire last Friday, he said he was hoping the US and UK would follow suit.

So far, they have not.

There has been a marked shift in rhetoric in most Western capitals vis-a-vis how Israel is exercising its manifest right to defend itself, as the horrors of its campaign in Gaza pervade the world’s mobile phone screens.

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Protesters in Paris demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza

The demands that Israel abides by its obligations under international humanitarian law have grown ever more insistent, with the focus on the desperate situation across Gaza’s hospitals, as the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) hones in on what it says are Hamas strongholds located in and beneath hospital compounds.

But despite the clamour both from the street and from across the political spectrum – look no further than the potential rebellion within the UK Labour Party over calls for a ceasefire – government policy in the West remains largely committed, for now, to the shorter-term, holding notion of humanitarian pauses.

“We all want to take the next steps towards a ceasefire but it cannot be one-sided,” said Australia’s foreign minister Penny Wong.

“Hamas still holds hostages, Hamas is still attacking Israel.”

For civilians in Gaza, humanitarian pauses are simply a way of prolonging their agony.

Dregs of aid brought in for brief, four-hour stints – a glimmer of relief that cannot possibly satisfy the gaping humanitarian need – before the fighting and the bombardment and the terrible bloodshed resumes.

A Palestinian wounded in an Israeli bombardment is brought to a hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza. Pic: AP
A Palestinian wounded in an Israeli bombardment is brought to hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza. Pic: AP

This is why calls for a ceasefire have resonated globally in the way that they have.

They are an urgent and perfectly understandable human response to the sight of bloodied babies grey with the dust from rubble, of an escalating civilian death toll which claims mostly women and children, to the tears, screams and despair of the people of Gaza.

They also gloss over Israel’s concern that any longer-term ceasefire agreed before the IDF achieves, or at the very least nears, its stated goal of wiping out Hamas will allow their fighters time to regroup and recalibrate.

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Israeli military operation at Gaza hospital

For now, efforts to secure even a limited hostage release deal have been stymied by both a lack of trust between the parties and domestic political pressure back in Israel.

As recently as last week, CIA director William Burns and David Barnea, his counterpart at Israel’s domestic intelligence agency Mossad, met Hamas officials in Doha to try and thrash out a deal on a limited hostage release in exchange for an extended pause in the fighting.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, so far, has reportedly turned such suggestions down.

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How Hamas attack unfolded on 7 October

Humanitarian pauses and ceasefires are, under international law, distinct terms representing different phases in a conflict and its resolution.

Until Israel can be sure Hamas even wants the guns to fall silent, it is unlikely to agree to anything even resembling a ceasefire.

That will only confirm the narrative of Israel’s opponents that it is engaged in an unjust war of aggression, with one senior UN human rights official resigning from his post over what he described as Israel’s “genocidal actions” – and the UN’s apparent failure to do anything about it.

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Plea for three-year-old hostage to be released

In the meantime, Israel’s allies must reassure their own constituencies that they are not simply standing idly by while Israel flouts international humanitarian law in the name of self-defence.

Politicians have elections to fight and different peoples to placate.

Unqualified support for Israel is no longer a given, as Macron’s comments made clear.

In the immediate aftermath of 7 October, US President Joe Biden called on Israel not to let rage consume it.

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Those warnings have continued, his latest being that hospitals must be protected.

So far, they appear to have gone unheeded.