As Israel’s bombardment of Gaza hits pause, Palestinian FM Riyad al Maliki says the ceasefire is good but it does not address “the core issue” in the region.
Palestine's top diplomat says a ceasefire in Gaza will enable 2 million Palestinians to sleep but is “not enough – at all”.
The world must now tackle the difficult issues of Jerusalem's future and achieving an independent Palestinian state, Riyad al Maliki said late on Thursday.
Palestine's foreign minister told reporters on the sidelines of an emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly on Israel's assault on the Palestinian territory of Gaza that while a ceasefire is good it does not address “the core issue” that started the attacks – Jerusalem.
Maliki cited the “desecration” by Israeli soldiers and settlers of Al Aqsa mosque and Israel's policy of evicting Palestinians from their homes in the city’s different neighbourhoods, including Sheikh Jarrah.
On Friday, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Gaza's Hamas government against any further rocket attacks following the ceasefire.
In a speech hours after the peace took effect, he said, “if Hamas thinks we will tolerate a drizzle of rockets, it is wrong.” He vowed to respond with “a new level of force against any expression of aggression against communities around Gaza and any other part of Israel.”
Using settlements to change demographics
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza – territories the Palestinians want for their future state – in the 1967 Mideast war.
Israel annexed occupied East Jerusalem in 1980 – a move that has never been recognised by the international community.
The Palestinians view East Jerusalem — which includes major holy sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims — as their capital, and its fate lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has triggered serious violence in the past.
Over 200 Israeli settlements have been built up in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem with a population of almost 620,000 from 1967 to 2017, according to B'tselem.
Al Maliki accused Israel of intending to erase the multi-cultural, multi-religious character of the city of Jerusalem, where it has been building settlements, erasing Palestinian footprint, saying: “We are opposed to that, we reject that, and we’ll keep working to prevent that from happening.”
He said Israel’s normalisation of relations with some Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, doesn’t waive the questions of the future of Jerusalem and a Palestinian state.
“To the contrary, we see today that the issue of Palestine and the Palestinian question, the issue of Jerusalem and the occupation of Jerusalem, is the most important issue for all Muslims and Arabs and the world alike,” Al Malki said.
“We want to see the Palestinian people free and also living in their own independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.
The last direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians took place in 2014. The Palestinians broke off relations with former US president Donald Trump’s administration in December 2017 after he after he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Trump further angered the Palestinians by presenting a two-state peace plan that would have required significant Palestinian concessions on territory and sovereignty, moved the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv, cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority and rescinded a longstanding legal opinion that Israeli settlement activity is illegitimate under international law.
President Joe Biden won initial but cautious plaudits from Mideast analysts when he rejected the Trump administration’s unabashedly pro-Israel stance and tentatively embraced the Palestinians by restoring aid and diplomatic contacts. But he also retained key elements Trump’s policies, including on settlements.
In the past two weeks, the United States blocked four attempts by the UN Security Council to demand an end to the Israeli-Hamas conflict, saying a statement could interfere with diplomatic efforts. US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told Thursday’s assembly meeting, “I don’t believe there is any country working more urgently or fervently toward peace.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told reporters after Israel and Hamas announced a ceasefire that Israel and Palestine have a responsibility to observe it and “to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict."
Guterres underscored the UN's commitment to work with Israelis and Palestinians to return to peace negotiations, including through the Quartet of Mideast mediator, the UN, US, European Union and Russia.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN and the US, Gilad Erdan, accused the General Assembly of “hypocrisy” on Thursday for supporting and not condemning Gaza's government Hamas, which doesn’t accept Israel’s right to exist.
He referred to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement in late April that the first Palestinian elections in 15 years would be delayed. Abbas cited a dispute with Israel to call off a vote in which his fractured Fatah party was expected to suffer another embarrassing defeat to the Hamas. Hamas called the move a “coup.”
“If this institution strengthens Hamas, it will make the possibility of Hamas replacing the Palestinian Authority much more likely and eliminate the chance of future dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians,” Erdan said. “There is nothing to discuss with a terror organisation committed to your annihilation, nothing.”
Hamas demands war restitution
Hamas said that Israel must end its violations in Jerusalem and address damages from the bombardment of Gaza following the ceasefire, warning the group still had its "hands on the trigger".
"It is true the battle ends today but (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and the whole world should know that our hands are on the trigger and we will continue to grow the capabilities of this resistance," said Ezzat El Reshiq, a member of the Hamas political bureau.
He told Reuters in Doha that the movement's demands also include protecting Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and ending the eviction of several Palestinians from their home in East Jerusalem which Reshiq described as "a red line".
Palestinians rallied by the thousands early on Friday after the ceasefire took effect in Israel's latest Gaza assault, with many viewing it as a costly but clear victory for Hamas over a far more powerful Israel.
Aerial bombardment of densely populated Gaza has killed 232 Palestinians, including 65 children.
Israel's assault destroyed houses, schools, hospitals and infrastructure that an overcrowded and impoverished Gaza does not have the capacity or funds to rebuild.
Vast areas have been reduced to rubble and some 120,000 people have been displaced, according to Hamas authorities.
The Israeli army said more than 4,300 rockets were fired towards Israel but the overwhelming majority of those headed for populated areas were intercepted by its Iron Dome air defences.
Most of Gaza's rockets are homemade, with many repurposed from unexploded Israeli missiles from previous strikes or even old water pipes.
The rockets have killed 12 in Israel, including two children and an Israeli soldier, with one Indian and two Thais among those killed, the police say.
"What comes after the battle of 'Sword of Jerusalem' is not like what came – because the Palestinian people backed the resistance and know that the resistance is what will liberate their land and protect their holy sites," Reshiq said.
Israel’s attacks on Gaza followed spiking tensions in occupied Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Hamas fired rockets on May 10 in retaliation for Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Israeli police deployed heavy-handed tactics against Palestinian worshippers in and around Al Aqsa Mosque in the last week of the holy month.
A major flashpoint in recent days has been a court case that could end with Palestinian families evicted from occupied East Jerusalem homes in Sheikh Jarrah claimed by Jewish settlers.
Hamas, which governs Gaza, is deemed a terrorist group in the West and by Israel, which it refuses to recognise.