After 200 Days of War, Where Have the Gaza Ceasefire Negotiations Reached?

Relatives of Israeli prisoners demonstrate in Tel Aviv to demand that the government reach an agreement to release the detainees held by Hamas. (AFP)
Relatives of Israeli prisoners demonstrate in Tel Aviv to demand that the government reach an agreement to release the detainees held by Hamas. (AFP)
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After 200 Days of War, Where Have the Gaza Ceasefire Negotiations Reached?

Relatives of Israeli prisoners demonstrate in Tel Aviv to demand that the government reach an agreement to release the detainees held by Hamas. (AFP)
Relatives of Israeli prisoners demonstrate in Tel Aviv to demand that the government reach an agreement to release the detainees held by Hamas. (AFP)

Two hundred days since the eruption of war in the Gaza Strip, ceasefire efforts are still ongoing even though it remains to be seen whether mediators in Egypt, Qatar, and the United States will be able to resolve the crisis.

Since its start on Oct. 7, the war has only stopped for one week, following an Egyptian Qatari-mediated agreement in November during which Hamas released more than 100 of its hostages and Israel freed about three times this number of Palestinian prisoners.

Since that “lone truce,” the mediators have been pushing for another “broader and more comprehensive” agreement, but their efforts have not borne fruit so far. Expert in Israeli affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Dr. Saeed Okasha attributed this failure to “miscalculations on the part of both sides of the conflict.”

“Tel Aviv accepted the first truce, believing that it would help in relieving pressure, and then quickly decide the battle in its favor. For its part, Hamas hoped it would be able to build an international drive to end the war, believing that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accepting of the deal would weaken his position and damage his image before the international community because he views the movement as terrorist,” Okasha told Asharq Al-Awsat.

During the past months, the hope of achieving a “truce” rose at times and faded at others, as the mediators’ efforts stumbled at continued “Israeli intransigence” and “conditions” that Hamas was not willing to abandon.

At the end of January, hope was pinned on the “framework of a three-stage truce agreement, each lasting 40 days.” The framework was agreed upon at a meeting in Paris that was attended by the intelligence chiefs of Egypt, the United States, and Israel, in addition to the Qatari prime minister. They expected that the proposal would ultimately lead to talks over ending the war completely.

But this framework, which was described as "constructive" by officials in Israel and the US, did not translate into reality after six rounds of indirect negotiations, which moved from Paris to Cairo to Doha and then back to Paris.

Towards the end of the month of Ramadan, Cairo hosted a new round of negotiations during which the Director of the CIA, William Burns, presented to Hamas a proposal to restore calm. It called for a six-week truce during which Hamas would release 40 Israeli hostages in exchange for the release of 800 to 900 Palestinians arrested by Israel, the entry of 400 to 500 trucks of food aid daily, and the return of the displaced from northern Gaza to their homes.

However, the mediators were unable to convince both parties to accept the deal, so the negotiations reached a “dead end.” Here, Okasha said: “Neither party wants to make concessions, because that means losing the battle.”

He noted that Tel Aviv is seeking to achieve a military victory by invading the city of Rafah, while Hamas is heading toward “political suicide.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry confirmed in an interview with CNN last week that the talks “were continuing and have never been interrupted” even though “an agreement has not been reached yet.”



What Are the Implications of the Visit by 4 Arab Leaders to China?

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during a meeting with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Cairo in January. (Egyptian Presidency)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during a meeting with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Cairo in January. (Egyptian Presidency)
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What Are the Implications of the Visit by 4 Arab Leaders to China?

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during a meeting with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Cairo in January. (Egyptian Presidency)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during a meeting with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Cairo in January. (Egyptian Presidency)

The leaders of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Tunisia are conducting a visit to China this week to attend the China-Arab Cooperation Forum, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing announced on Monday.

From Tuesday to Saturday, the presidents will “pay state visits to China and attend the opening ceremony of the 10th Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum,” Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, diplomats and experts in Chinese affairs said the participation of Arab heads of state was aimed at conveying a message about efforts to strengthen relations with China, which in return is seeking to engage more in political affairs related to the Middle East.

According to the Chinese statement, the Arab delegation includes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Tunisian President Kais Saied and UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

During a press conference, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Deng Li said China’s President Xi Jinping will attend the Forum and deliver a speech on Thursday, adding that he will hold separate talks with the four Arab leaders to discuss bilateral relations and exchange views on regional and international issues of common interest.

Former Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister Ambassador Ezzat Saad told Asharq Al-Awsat that Chinese-Arab relations have witnessed a boom in recent years, specifically since Xi came to power in 2013.

“There are about 12 Arab countries that currently maintain comprehensive strategic partnership relations with China,” he said, noting that Chinese investments in Arab countries almost reached $250 billion dollars, while the volume of Chinese trade with Arab countries is close to half a trillion dollars.

He interpreted the high-level Arab participation as “a message to the West, reflecting the development of Arab relations with eastern powers, such as China and Russia, in light of those countries’ respect for the United Nations Charter and the rights of peoples to self-determination and non-interference in the affairs of others, in contrast to existing Western double-standard policy.”

Asian affairs expert at the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs Diaa Helmy said China is interested in the region, demonstrated in its involvement in political issues and its effort to create “global balances”, in wake of the war on Gaza and the possibility of its spillover into the region and impacting international trade.

China is interested in joining the mediation efforts and help in taking just and urgent decisions to preserve peace and security in the Middle East, he added, noting China’s balanced position towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and its support of legitimate Arab rights.