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ConflictsMiddle East

Gaza: UN resolution is a 'step along the way'

Thomas Latschan
June 12, 2024

Israeli historian Moshe Zimmermann says the UN Security Council vote for the US-backed plan for a hostage exchange and cease-fire in Gaza is progress toward peace. The next days will tell whether it is a "breakthrough."

Moshe Zimmermann at a podium
Moshe Zimmermann believes peace between Israelis and Palestinians is possible if both sides reconsider their goalsImage: Marius Becker/dpa/picture alliance

DW: Mr. Zimmermann, the UN Security Council has come out in favor of a three-phase peace plan for Gaza. It initially calls for a cease-fire, during which an initial exchange of Israeli hostages and imprisoned Palestinians would take place. This would be followed by a permanent cessation of fighting, with the release of all the remaining hostages, and finally a lasting peaceful solution with the reconstruction of Gaza. Is this resolution a breakthrough on the way to a settlement of the conflict?

Moshe Zimmermann: It is a step along the way. A breakthrough will be achieved if both sides agree, both Hamas and the Israeli government. The Israeli government is now celebrating [Shavuot]; then we will see whether it was a breakthrough or at least a step in the right direction.

What do you see as the biggest difficulties in implementing this plan?

The biggest difficulty is that both sides have very different goals. Hamas is trying to bring the war to an end — i.e., to break Israel's military superiority  and Israel is trying to destroy Hamas. Israel will certainly not achieve its goals with this cease-fire, but Hamas will. And that is the difficulty at the moment.

People in chairs at the UN Security Council
The Security Council voted unanimously for the cease-fire, with Russia abstainingImage: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Israeli goals were a 'mistake from the outset'

Over eight months have passed since the Hamas terror attacks on Israel on October 7. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet achieved any of the war goals he set himself: Hamas has not been defeated, nor have all the hostages been freed. Has Israel's approach so far failed?

It was a mistake from the outset to aim for the absolute destruction of Hamas or what Netanyahu called "absolute victory." That was an illusion: It was not the right goal after the major debacle of October 7. The war has also dragged on so long because this goal cannot be achieved.

Who could guarantee that this peace plan will be implemented now? Who would be a suitable protective power?

There is no doubt that the US and its allies in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, are playing the main role. Of course, the Palestinians must now also offer an alternative to Hamas. They must reform and strengthen the Palestinian Authority. If all this works, then it will be possible to turn the cease-fire into a longer cease-fire. 

There has been no official statement to date on what should happen in Gaza once the war is over. That is why opposition leader Benny Gantz left the unity government after a quarrel. What could a post-war order even look like?

We know what it could look like if there was interest in such a thing: Namely, that the Palestinian Authority would take charge of Gaza instead of Hamas, so that Palestinians on both sides — in Gaza and in the West Bank — could speak with one voice. That would actually be the cleverer solution, but it is something that Netanyahu is definitely not in favor of. That is why there have been no efforts in this direction so far. That's why the war is taking so long. That's why there is no clear plan for the day after. And that is ultimately the reason why Benny Gantz had to resign from the government. If it all comes to nothing, he can't achieve anything, and then it's better for him to be in the opposition.

There are also people in the right-wing camp calling for the occupation of Gaza by Israeli settlers after the conflict. Is this just a small group or is it really a movement that has to be taken seriously?

There are many considerations, on all sides. The problem is the government, which is on the extreme right. This government includes people who claim that Gaza must be reoccupied and that new Jewish settlements have to be built there. We don't know whether Netanyahu also wants to go that far, but the coalition partners are blocking any other alternative. And the other considerations that I outlined earlier remain the considerations from the opposition. So far, they have had no effect or influence — and that is why the Israeli side continues to wage this war. If one doesn't offer a smart solution, one can just keep fighting. And since Hamas cannot be completely destroyed, and Gaza cannot be completely bombed, there is this war of attrition going on. Eight months is a very long time, certainly for Israel. But it could last even longer — as long as the government doesn't come to a new decision.

People walk among rubble in Gaza
There has been little serious discussion about what a post-war Gaza could look likeImage: Jehad Alshrafi/AP Photo/picture alliance

Peace is 'a question of political will'

October 7 severely traumatized Israeli society, but, after months of serious armed conflict with tens of thousands of deaths, the same applies to the Palestinians. How can the two peoples come together again, how can a basis of trust of any kind be rebuilt after this escalation?

I am a historian specialized in European history. I know the First World War, I know the Second World War. There were even more deaths, even more destruction. If the goal and the will are there, all of that can be overcome and peace can be striven for. That is a question of political will. This can also be achieved in the Middle East — in my opinion even sooner than in Europe. Europe did it after two world wars. We can do it too — provided that the two sides reconsider what their goal is. If they both only focus on destroying the other, then even a cease-fire will not be the beginning of peace.

The Israeli historian Moshe Zimmermann is professor emeritus for modern history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he led the Richard Koebner Center for German History from 1986 to 2012. He was a visiting professor in Germany for several years.

This interview was originally published in German on June 11.

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