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The Politics of Ceasefires in the Middle East

The question is not whether Israel and Hamas should negotiate a ceasefire. The question is when are the conditions optimal for Israel to conclude a ceasefire agreement.

Israel, and their Arab neighbors, know how to play this Middle Eastern game of when to negotiate a ceasefire. For example, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the first three days went very badly for Israel (October 6th to October 8th). The Soviets wanted a ceasefire to consolidate the Egyptian gains in Sinai and the Syrian gains in the Golan Heights.

Henry Kissinger was in New York at the Waldorf Towers when the war began. He was awakened by his Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph Sisco at 6:15 a.m. on October 6, 1973.

At 6:40 a.m., Kissinger called Soviet Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin. That phone call began a two-week game of when to conclude a ceasefire.

As Kissinger wrote in his book, Crisis: The Anatomy of Two Major Foreign Policy Crises, “Once the Israeli army reached the lines at which the war had started, we could accept a ceasefire.” If the Soviets could achieve a ceasefire before Israel’s territorial losses were reversed, it would reward aggression.

Syria was willing to accept the Soviet ceasefire proposal in the first two days while Egyptian President Anwar Sadat rejected the idea. By October 10th, the Israelis had recaptured most of the Golan Heights and were advancing into Syria. By October 16th, the Israelis crossed the canal into Egypt.

With Israeli troops on both sides of the canal, the Egyptian Third Army was cut off. With Israel’s military situation improving, Henry Kissinger was able to travel to Moscow and negotiate from a position of strength with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.

As Kissinger boarded his flight to Moscow on October 20, 1973, he tried to stall the Soviets further. Kissinger wrote, “In order to gain time, I had told Dobrynin that I never negotiated immediately after a long flight across many times zones and would not be prepared to begin talks until Sunday morning Moscow time, more than thirty-six hours away. In the interval, as he and I both knew, the military situation could only change in Israel’s favor.”

The talks were successful. The Soviets accepted America’s ceasefire proposal when they supported Security Council Resolution 338.

In today’s Middle East, it is in Israel’s best interests to get a deal immediately. The long-term demographics seem to favor the Palestinians. This is why Yasser Arafat, and Mahmoud Abbas, have rejected every attempt at a two-state solution.

For the Palestinians, there is no reason to say yes in 2021, when 2025, or even 2030, will give them a stronger position to bargain. If President Abbas, or Hamas, cared about the Palestinian people, they would have concluded a two-state solution a long time ago in exchange for financial assistance.

The Palestinians leaders are emboldened to continue waiting for an agreement because they know that Americans under 30 are more likely to favor the Palestinians than older Americans, according to the Pew Research Center. The partisan gap is also growing.

In 1978, Republicans only favored Israel slightly more than the Democrats. The gap has been widening since 2001.

In March 2021, a Gallup poll showed that Israel had a favorability among a majority of both Republicans (85%) and Democrats (64%). While 80% of Republicans sympathize more with the Israelis over the Palestinians, only 43% of Democrats sympathize more with the Israelis. In the same poll, 38% of Democrats sympathized more with the Palestinians compared with just 10% of Republicans.

Israel has proved to the world that it wants peace with its neighbors. In the last year, Israel was able to conclude normalization agreements with four Arab countries. The Palestinian leadership cannot even negotiate a peace treaty between the Fatah in West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The fact that Hamas is calling for a ceasefire is proof that Israel is winning this conflict. Israel needs to beat Hamas sufficiently for a ceasefire to hold. A few years ago, I asked an Israeli colonel why Israel has not fought a war with Hezbollah since 2006.

He explained to me that Hezbollah knows the next war between Israel and Hezbollah will be “its last.” Hamas has fought Israel in three wars from 2008 to 2014. If we are ever going to get a two-state solution, the supporters of the Palestinians need to stop emboldening Hamas to choose war over a two-state solution.

After Israel has sufficiently degraded Hamas, then the Biden administration will be in a far better position to pressure the Palestinians to eventually make peace with Israel.

Robert Zapesochny is a researcher and writer whose work focuses on foreign affairs, national security and presidential history. He has been published in numerous outlets, including The American Spectator, the Washington Times, and The American Conservative. When he’s not writing, Robert works for a medical research company in New York. Read Robert Zapesochny’s Reports — More Here

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