UK proposes plan to end Israel-Hamas war

The UK is proposing a five-point plan to end the war between Israel and Hamas, as western allies that have backed the Jewish state push for a permanent ceasefire and a political process that sets a pathway for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The initiative, which foreign secretary Lord David Cameron discussed with Israeli and Palestinian leaders during a tour of the region this week, calls for an immediate pause in hostilities. That would be used to secure the release of hostages held in Gaza and to negotiate the permanent ceasefire, a senior UK official said.

It proposes setting out a clear “political horizon” for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and the formation of a technocratic Palestinian government to administer the occupied West Bank and Gaza after the war. Hamas would have to release all hostages and commit to halting attacks against Israel, which would be guaranteed by regional states.

It includes the suggestion that Hamas’s senior leaders in Gaza, including Yahya Sinwar, a mastermind of the October 7 attack that triggered the war, leave the strip for another country.

“What we’re trying to do is cement the idea that when you get this pause, you’ve got to work hard to turn it into a lasting ceasefire, and to really focus on the realistic and achievable things that could actually make a ceasefire permanent and sustainable,” the UK official said.

The proposal is one of several initiatives being discussed by western and Arab states as international pressure mounts on Israel to end its offensive on Gaza, which has killed more than 26,000 people, according to Palestinian officials.

The UK believes its plan is complementary to other initiatives, and has raised it with the US, European and Arab governments.

“I think there is a growing consensus in the international community that a hostage deal and a pause are the keys for unlocking the chance of a permanent ceasefire,” the official said.

“And that you have to have a much clearer political horizon for a Palestinian state: a new Palestinian government for the West Bank and Gaza, and that Hamas must never again be able to attack Israel.”

Qatar, along with the US and Egypt, is already mediating between Israel and Hamas to broker an agreement that leads to a month-long pause in the war during which Hamas would release the remaining 136 hostages. In return, Israel would free Palestinian prisoners and allow more aid into Gaza.

But the talks have become bogged down by Israel’s rejection of Hamas’s demand for a permanent ceasefire at the end of any arrangement, something the mediators are also pushing for, people briefed on the negotiations said.

The heads of the CIA and Mossad were expected to hold talks with the Qatari prime minister on Saturday in Paris to break the deadlock.

Separately, Arab states have been working on a US-backed initiative to secure a ceasefire and the release of hostages as part of a broader plan that could offer Israel a normalisation of relations if it agrees to “irreversible” steps towards the creation of a Palestinian state.

That could include Saudi Arabia and other Arab states formalising ties with Israel.

Despite international consensus on the need for a permanent ceasefire and a renewed focus on reaching a settlement on the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are significant challenges to ending the war and launching a new peace process.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out any moves towards the creation of a Palestinian state or working with the western-backed Palestinian Authority, which administers limited parts of the West Bank. He has also rejected any permanent ceasefire as part of a hostage deal.

Instead, Netanyahu has insisted that Israel would continue with its offensive in Gaza to destroy Hamas and pursue “total victory” after the militant group’s October 7 attack killed about 1,200 people, according to Israel. Militants also seized about 250 hostages.

Despite the hurdles, western and Arab officials have been discussing the formation of a new Palestinian government with Palestinian leaders to have a credible body to administer Gaza — which Hamas has controlled since 2007 — and the West Bank. The idea is to have a technocratic administration with an empowered prime minister, officials said.

That reflects the realisation that the weak PA, which is led by President Mahmoud Abbas, 88, and is unpopular among many Palestinians, lacks the credibility to move into Gaza. 

Hamas’s political wing would be included in the process of forming the new government, as long as it accepted the existence of the Jewish state based on the borders before the 1967 war, when Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank, Arab officials said.

Various names are being discussed to head a new administration, with the frontrunners believed to be Salam Fayyad, a former prime minister with the PA, and Mohammad Mustafa, chair of the Palestinian Investment Fund.

Arab diplomats insist it will be up to Palestinians to choose the composition of the administration, which would focus on the reconstruction of Gaza and administering areas of the West Bank. Elections would be held after an interim period, possibly in two years.

An Arab diplomat said Palestinian leaders did not object to a technocratic government, but added that they needed political guarantees towards the establishment of a Palestinian state to ensure it has legitimacy in the eyes of Palestinians.

The diplomat said that there was co-ordination between the western and regional states. But ultimately it would be up to Arab powers to do the “heavy lifting” to deliver a “comprehensive plan” that could then be adopted by the Biden administration, as the US had the most leverage over Israel.

“It has to look like it’s the Biden vision for peace,” the diplomat said.

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