Politics of Ceasefire in the Israelo-Gaza Conflict: The Foreign Policy Implications for Nigeria

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

Ceasefire is always a desire when there is a military lull or when international humanitarian law is recklessly violated. In the case of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza, it is both a situation of military lull and reckless violation of international humanitarian law. On the one hand, the Hamas launched an attack on the Israelis on October 7, 2023 without any initial formal declaration of war, but apparently in the face of frustration. On the other hand, the Israelis see the attack as an unprovoked, particularly when considering the factors of immediacy. 

In both cases, when looking at the distant causal factors of the Israelo-Arab conflict, the Hamas attack cannot be rightly considered by Israel as unprovoked, because the violent genesis dates back to 1948. The Israelis took the attack as unwarranted and therefore decided to retaliate by seeking to wipe out the Hamas organization, if not the whole people.

And true enough, Israel kept its promise to seek the destruction of the Gaza of Hamas.  In the process, innocent civilians, non-combatants, children, etc. have been recklessly killed. The recklessness is partly explained by the non-limitation of their assaults on the military wing of the Hamas, the Qassam Brigade. The Israelis have indiscriminately assaulted civilians, including internationally-protected people. In fact, more than 6,500 Palestinians have been killed. Al Jazeera Bureau Chief, Wael Dahdouh, was killed in an air raid, and, at least, 22 Palestinian journalists have been killed since the new conflict began on October 7, 2023.

The reckless killing has generated international outcries and unreserved condemnation. For instance, the international community has called for ceasefire, but this has been to no avail. Ceasefire, which is of Latin origin (cessare, meaning ‘go slow’ or ‘leave’), is a situation of temporary non-fighting or cessation of hot battles. It is about suspension of aggressive attacks. In fact, ceasefire is also written as two words, ‘cease fire,’ which explains the meaning better: ‘cease the fire.’ As one word, it is a noun, but when it is written as two words, ‘cease’ becomes a verb.  The question in this case is who really wants ceasefire? Which type of ceasefire are we talking about when seeking to bring about a permanent end to a conflict? Can the 2-State approach to the conflict be helpful? Whatever is the case, the international politics of the conflict does not point to an enduring peace but to a potential mutual tolerance that will be predicated on strong suspicions.

International Politics: the Domestic Level

The most critical problem in the misunderstanding between the Palestinian Arabs and the Israelis is how to achieve a permanent ceasefire. Ceasefire, as we noted earlier, can be temporary, but it can also be made permanent, in which case a ceasefire will no longer be a temporary suspension, but a total stoppage of hot battles, and therefore meaning a truce or armistice. Put differently, a permanent ceasefire should be fashioned after the principles of armistice which is an agreement generally done to stop armed hostilities permanently. When cessation of hostilities is partial or temporary, it is often considered local, and when cessation of hostilities is general, it is considered to be total. In the context of international politics, which type of ceasefire precisely does the international community want? What do the regional Member States in the Middle East want? Why is the world community not working towards adoption of an armistice as enshrined in the 1907 Hague Conference and as contained in The Hague Land War Regulations?

Indeed, international politics of the Israelo-Palestinian conflict deals basically with condemnation, calling for a ceasefire, ignoring the obligations created by international humanitarian law, and ultimately ending up doing nothing. Whenever there are serious violations of humanitarian law, especially by Israel, hardly was there anything done to bring Israel to book. Even at the level of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the politics of application of veto is such that Israel has never been allowed by the United States to be sanctioned. 

This is one major reason for the recidivist character of the Israelo-Arab conflict. Apart from the license indirectly given by the United States to the Israelis to continue to engage in violent recklessness in its relationship with the Palestinian Arabs, the Arabs themselves also constitute another noisome problem. They often keep quiet in the face of many Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Gaza.  

One rationale for this cannot be separated from the fact of the division of the Palestinians against themselves. The Hamas, without any whiff of doubt, are also Palestinians. However, following the 2007 elections, the Palestinian Authority refused to recognize the Hamas group. The Palestinians were sharply divided against themselves in terms of attitudinal dispositions towards the resolution of the conflict. This is why it is quite easy for the Israelis to argue that they are not against the Palestinians but against the Hamas. It is also for this same consideration that the US President Joe Biden can also afford the luxury of sustaining the argument that the Hamas are a group of terrorists and should be fought tooth and nail. The Israelis are being presented as children of God as if the Palestinians are not also creation of God. It is against this background that the politics of the conflict should be explained and understood.   

There are four categories of politics-playing in the matter of the Israeli-Hamas conflict: Internal Israelo-Hamas politics, international politics in favour of the Israelis, international politics in favour of the Hamas, United Nations politics, and international wait-and-see politics. The politics-playing is essentially about shared sovereignty over Palestinian territory that was partitioned following the end of the British Mandate over Palestine in 1947 and also essentially about disregard for the internationally-protected people when there are situations of belligerency or shooting wars.

As regards the first category, Israel and Hamas, both people have different strategic objectives. Both of them have a policy of mutual annihilation. When the Jews declared a State of Israel in 1948, the Arabs adopted the policy of pushing the Israelis to the Sea, in other words, pushing them to die in the High Seas. In reaction, Israel could not have also wished the hostile Arabs what is worst. Consistent with this mutual policy of hatred, Israel does not believe that there could be any international humanitarian obligation that could be superior to the survival and self-preservation of the people of Israel. The Israelis simply want a State of Israel for the Jews.

In fact, Israel is hostile to having an Arab State as a contiguous neighbor. This is one major rationale for the difficulty in the proposed 2-Nation approach to the question. It is therefore not surprising that Israel has launched six major assaults on Gaza since the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Gaza in 2005, especially the 2012 assault in which the Chief of the Qassam Brigade, the military wing of the Hamas Organisation, was killed. More than 6,500 Palestinians have been killed, and for that matter, indiscriminately since the inception of the war on October 7. The family members of the Bureau Chief of the Al Jazeera’s in Gaza, Chief Wael Dahdouh, were killed during an Israeli air raid and while the Bureau Chief himself was actively engaged in covering the Israeli raid. In truth, not less than 22 journalists have been killed since the new war began.

And more importantly but disturbingly, the Israeli government has ordered more than 200,000 people in 105 communities near Gaza and Lebanon borders to evacuate. The Israeli government has also promised to pay 6,000 Shekels ($1,470) per month and per adult, as well as 3,000 Shekels per child for families who chose to evacuate independently or who cannot find a state-funded hotel room. All these measures are done within the framework of violations of international humanitarian obligations, especially bearing in mind that, for the first time in the anti-Gaza battles, tanks have been used. 

At the level of the Hamas, in particular, and the Arab world, in general, the objective has shifted from pushing the Israelis to the Sea but to now have a convenient territory to exist in as a people for survival. Israel has made life very inclement in Gaza: it is total blockade. It is Israel that controls electricity and water supply and this is often done with the whims and caprices of the Israelis. Even with the border with Egypt which escaping Palestinians still take advantage of, the survival of the Palestinians is still largely defined by and depends on the Israelis. It is therefore not a surprise if the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, has to warn the international community of the imminent consequences. 

As warned by the Honourable Minister, Israel’s expanding ground operations ‘will be a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions for years watching every vote. History will judge.’ The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has corroborated this observation. Mr. Phillipe Lazzarimi has noted in this regard that ‘food and water are running out. The streets of Gaza have started overflowing with sewage. Gaza is on the brink of a massive health hazard as the risks of diseases are looming.’ And perhaps most importantly, he also said that ‘the last remaining public services are collapsing, our aid operation is crumbling and for the first time ever (our staff) report that people are now hungry.’

The warning by the UNRWA should also be seen against the background that Israel has not allowed the import of fuel into Gaza which the UN says is paralyzing its operations. In this regard, if Israel is blocking the inflow of aid to the Gazans, and the UNRWA is saying it might not be able to collect and distribute aid reaching Gaza, and by so doing warning that it will sooner than later begin to wind down, what purpose is international politics playing in the management of the conflict? This necessarily brings us to the international level of the politics. It is also against this background that the foreign policy implications should be discussed.

Global Level: the Foreign Policy Implications 

At the United Nations General Assembly, two draft resolutions, one proposed by Jordan and the other by Russia, both aimed at sustaining a humanitarian truce that could dovetail into cessation of the military hostilities, especially in light of Israel’s intransigence to expand its ground operations, were debated and voted for and against. 120 countries voted in favour and 14 countries against. 45 countries abstained. The United States and Israel expectedly voted against. In the eyes of the Israeli Ambassador to the UN, the resolution is nothing more than a passage of ‘a day of infamy’ for the UNGA. As he further explained it, ‘it is the duty of this body to call out murderous terrorists by name, not hide them behind empty words.’ He even asked: ‘why are you defending murderers?’ Whatever is the case, both resolutions failed because of US veto. Austria, Hungary Marshall Islands, Fiji, Guatemala, Micronesia, Paraguay, Tonga, Croatia, Czechia and Tonga all voted against.

The position of both the United States and Israel is a resultant of the fact that in the draft resolution, efforts were made not to describe the Hamas as terrorists contrary to the wishes of the Americans and the Israelis. The politics of who is a liberator and a terrorist can be dated back to the time of US President Ronald Reagan, who came up with the policy of Constructive Engagement as an approach to the anti-apartheid struggle in Southern Africa. In the eyes of President Reagan, the anti-apartheid movements were terrorists. African leaders, particularly those of Nigeria, argued to the contrary, positing that they were liberation movements. This situation is not different today in the context of the Hamas. The Arabs and other supporters of the Hamas consider the Hamas’ political and military organisations as liberators and not as terrorists. At the end of the day, the resolution could not fly for various political considerations.

First, UNGA resolutions are only significant and even morally impacting at the political level. Beyond that, it is not binding. Secondly, the UN draft resolution wants an ‘immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities, as well as an ‘immediate, full, sustained safe and unhindered humanitarian access.’ The resolutions also wants Israel to rescind its order to evacuate northern Gaza, in addition to ensuring the unconditional release of all civilians who are being illegally held captive’ by the Hamas militants. 

On the contrary, the Russians and the Chinese view the draft resolution differently but their ultimate objectives are the same. The point of difference borders again on what constitutes a ceasefire. Chinese plenipotentiary to the UN noted that ‘at this moment, ceasefire is not just a diplomatic term. It means the life and death of many civilians.’ This statement should be understood in the context of Israel’s expanding ground operations in which case, as at today, the telephone and internet services have been cut off and the telecommunications system has been completely disrupted. Life has become unbearable for everyone.

Third is the US policy stand. The United States policy towards Israel can never allow for an anti-Israel voting. The US wants to maintain Israel’s regional supremacy and hegemony in the Middle East. This is undoubtedly a pillar of US policy on the Middle East. This also largely explains the increasing funding of Israel’s anti-Arab activities organised under the canopy of anti-terrorism. Increasing Israel’s military arsenal is always supported by the United States. Without doubt, the current strategy of the United States is to have Israel set those held in captive first released without harm before engaging in any expansion of ground operations. The expectation in this regard is to have a more convenient environment for negotiations for the release of the hostages. This is why the United States wants a ceasefire, but the Chinese and Russians are opposed, considering that the State of Israel is also using terrorist tactics to silence journalists. 

To a great extent, Israel’s argument that ‘a ceasefire means giving Hamas time to rearm itself,’ is tenable, but the consideration of the UN resolution as being consciously conceived not to be intended to bring peace but ‘to tie Israel’s hands,’ cannot be tenable. In essence, the United States wants a ‘humanitarian pause,’ but the Russian draft wanted a humanitarian ceasefire and withdrawal of Israel’s order.’ 

In terms of Nigeria, the country voted in favour of the UN resolution calling for humanitarian truce. The Nigerian vote is quite significant in many ways. First, when the UNGA came up with a resolution meant to condemn the Russian Special Military Intervention in Ukraine on March 2nd, 2022 Nigeria voted along with the United States to condemn Russia. Several African countries abstained. Some voted against the resolution. This development angered the United States to the extent that President Joe Biden had to promise to sanction any country that votes against any US foreign policy interest, particularly at the UNGA. This time, there is no disputing the fact that the United States is much interested in Israel and that Nigeria voted again along the lines of the United States.

Unlike in the case of the Russo-Ukrainian resolution, Nigeria’s voting to condemn Russia was not in Nigeria’s national interest mainly because President Vladimir Putin of Russia did a Memorandum of Understanding with Nigeria regarding the completion of the Ajaokuta rolling mills. The story of the Ajaokuta steel industry has become so pathetic and disgraceful that, for more than three decades, the steel complex could not be completed. In fact, the Europeans and particularly the United States, did not want the steel complex to be put in place by the former Soviet Union, advising the Nigerian government that Soviet technology was too heavy because of Cold War politics. Since then, the politics of it has not allowed any meaningful development of the complex. And now that Russia did agree during the 2019 Russo-African summit to help Nigeria and complete the steel industry, the best foreign policy stand Nigeria could have adopted during the UNGA vote was to have abstained and not voting against Russia. It is always better not being the friend of one and the enemy of the other because Nigeria has warm relations with both Russia and Ukraine.

In the context of the current Israelo-Arab imbroglio, the UN resolution as proposed by Jordan and amended, avoided calling any side a terrorist. It only placed emphasis on the need for ceasefire at various levels and on the urgent release of those held in captivity. Consequently, there is not much harm in voting for a resolution calling for humanitarian pause and release of hostages. Most Muslims in Nigeria appear to have sympathy for the Palestinians based on religious solidarity. The same is also true of most Christians in Nigeria as they give open support to Israel. But which foreign policy is more adaptable to global questions? Should religion be an issue in Nigeria’s foreign policy designs? Shouldn’t Nigeria’s national interest be the compass of every foreign policy endeavor, particularly as it is the requirement for the application of the principle of non-alignment in Nigeria’s foreign relations?

And true enough, the conflict between the Gazans and the Israelis is not stricto sensu about religious dispute. Arabs are generally Muslims and always seek to assist one another. It is this religious solidarity that is being brought into the Israelo-Gazan dispute equation and which gives the wrong impression of a religious colouration. Nigeria has always supported the Palestinians, not only straining diplomatic ties with Israel, but also allowing the Palestine Liberation Organisation to open an office in Nigeria. Consequently, Nigeria’s foreign policy of supporting fairness and justice, and urgent humanitarian pause in the ongoing conflict in Gaza is a most welcome development, especially that there is no longer any room for  foreign policy strategic miscalculation under the new administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He is now a tenured President of Nigeria and no longer under threat .

Related Articles