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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 4 JUNE 2024

No permanent ceasefire until Hamas destroyed — Netanyahu; UN atomic watchdog warns Iran

No permanent ceasefire until Hamas destroyed — Netanyahu; UN atomic watchdog warns Iran
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Gil Cohen-Magen)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated there would be no permanent ceasefire in the war against Hamas in Gaza until the country’s conditions were met, which include the destruction of the Islamist group.

The United Nations atomic watchdog warned Iran against inflammatory rhetoric after some politicians in the country said engineers could quickly militarise its nuclear programme if instructed to do so.

Turkey’s exports to Israel all but ground to a halt in May, after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government stopped trade until Gaza received enough humanitarian aid.

Israel says no permanent ceasefire unless Hamas is destroyed

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated there would be no permanent ceasefire in the war against Hamas in Gaza until the country’s conditions were met, which include the destruction of the Islamist group. 

Israel was willing to pause hostilities for the purpose of returning hostages, but what happened next would be subject to further talks, Netanyahu said in a meeting with parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday, according to his office.

A proposal presented by US President Joe Biden on Friday for a permanent ceasefire was only part of the package and there were details he didn’t make public, Netanyahu said, without being more specific.

Israel was working on “countless ways” to bring back hostages held by Hamas since the start of the nearly eight-month war, the prime minister said in a separate statement. Ensuring their safe passage back from Gaza would be possible while also eliminating the Iran-backed group, he said.

His comments raised further questions about the three-phase peace plan laid out by Biden, which he said had been put forward by Israel. That proposal detailed a six-week truce involving an exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners, followed by a focus on an Israeli withdrawal of troops and a permanent ceasefire.

Netanyahu was quick to push back against the idea he was on board with that plan over the weekend, saying the destruction of Hamas’s governing and military capabilities remains a non-negotiable target, but one not specifically mentioned in the outlines of the plan released by the White House.

Read more: Israel pushes back against Gaza ceasefire outlined by Biden 

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Monday Israel had shown “a willingness to step forward and do a deal”, and Hamas must now “come to the table”. The group, designated a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union, has said it’s ready “to deal positively and constructively with any proposal” based on an indefinite stop to the conflict.

The Israeli prime minister is under pressure from right-wing allies who have threatened to leave his ruling coalition and bring down the government if he agrees to end the war without dismantling Hamas. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 people demonstrated in Israel over the weekend, calling for an end to the war.

Biden said Israel has battered Hamas enough to prevent it from carrying out another attack like the one on 7 October, when militants killed some 1,200 Israelis and took 250 hostages. More than 35,000 Palestinians have died in Israel’s subsequent campaign, according to health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza.  

Iran’s remarks on nuclear arms ‘inflaming Middle East cauldron’

The United Nations atomic watchdog warned Iran against inflammatory rhetoric after some politicians in the country said engineers could quickly militarise its nuclear programme if instructed to do so. 

Recent statements by current and former Iranian officials that its official nuclear doctrine, which prohibits the development of a bomb, could be revised are in focus at the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting this week in Vienna.

Any decision to withdraw from the international agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities and build a weapon could spark a regional arms race and dramatically increase tensions between the Islamic Republic and the West.

“Many countries have said if Iran gets nuclear weapons, they will do the same,” International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said. “Adding nuclear weapons to the cauldron of the Middle East is a very bad idea.”

Last month a senior legislator and a former foreign minister in Iran told state media the country could change its stance on nuclear weapons if Israel attacked its nuclear infrastructure. The comments were made after Iran and Israel almost went to war in April, when Tehran directly attacked the Jewish state with missiles for the first time.  

Turkish exports to Israel plunge 99% after trade halted over war

Turkey’s exports to Israel all but ground to a halt in May, after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government stopped trade until Gaza received enough humanitarian aid.

Shipments to Israel dropped by 99% on an annual basis to $4.4-million, preliminary data from Turkey’s main exporters association showed on Monday. The official statistics service TurkStat will publish full trade data for last month, including imports, later in June.

The Turkish Trade Ministry announced at the start of last month that trade ties would be paused until Israel allowed “uninterrupted and sufficient flow” of humanitarian aid to Gaza, where Israel has been waging war against Hamas since October.

Turkish exports to Israel in the first five months had decreased by 40% from the same period of last year, the data showed. 

Before the start of the war, Turkey and Israel were normalising their ties after a decade of tensions. Total trade volume was $6.8-billion last year, according to the Israeli Economy Ministry.

Google block on reviews draws Israeli, Palestinian business ire

Ashraf Creish, the owner of the West Bank restaurant Zest, knew the Israel-Hamas war was going to be hard on business. The steady flow of diners from international organisations and consulates in Jerusalem stopped after 7 October and never came back.

But he ran into an unexpected hurdle in seeking new customers for his Ramallah cafe, which enjoys a 4.7-star rating on Google: Alphabet blocked new reviews for businesses in Israel and the Palestinian territories since Hamas invaded southern Israel nearly eight months ago.

“People look up the reviews if they want to go to a restaurant and they don’t see it now,” Creish said in an interview. Zest averaged four or five reviews a week on Google before the war, he said. The steady flow of reviews was “part of our success”.

The open-ended Google policy — meant to guard against trolls and protesters who’d misuse the system during conflicts — is one example of the struggles facing many small businesses in Israel and the Palestinian territories since the war, which has devastated the economy and upended the tourist trade they depend on. New businesses formed since October told Bloomberg that they can’t register on Google Maps.

“As we have done previously in conflict situations, we put additional protections in place to monitor and prevent content that violates our policies for Maps, including temporarily blocking new reviews, photos, and videos in Israel and Gaza,” a Google spokesperson said, declining to comment on specific instances. A similar policy was in effect in Russia and Ukraine in 2022, according to media reports at the time, but has since been lifted. 

Small business owners, who weren’t notified about the change, have been struggling to find recourse. When Miriam Brainin, the chief operating officer of Tel Aviv job placement agency JobHunt initially approached Google in October over missing customer reviews, she was first told those reviews violated the company’s policy. A month later, she was informed that reviews were disabled until further notice but was offered no explanation, according to screenshots shared with Bloomberg.

“They didn’t mention anything about the war. It really made me question myself, that perhaps I had done something wrong,” Brainin said in a phone interview. 

While the Google search results for Brainin’s and Creish’s businesses say that they’re open, the war shuttered many companies in Israel, particularly in the first months when hundreds of thousands of Israelis were called up for military reserve duty.

“My clients look at it and say to themselves, the war broke out and they have no new reviews, they’re probably no longer operating,” Brainin said. “We aren’t a restaurant that you can see with your own two eyes whether it’s open or not.” DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
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