Ukraine update and Gaza ceasefire now!
The only good news: Kyiv moves one step closer to EU membership
In a welcome piece of good news against a decidedly bleak military picture [see below], the European Commission on 8 November 2023 recommended that
European Union leaders should allow formal talks on Ukraine and Moldova’s accession to the bloc to start once both countries have finalised the necessary reforms.
Lorenzo Tondo, writing for the Guardian, introduces a note of caution, however:
The decision is not definitive; those recommendations will now go to existing member states for a final signoff in December. And even if they are approved, accession talks would be expected to drag on for years.
In addition to making significant progress against pervasive corruption, Ukraine must meet EU criteria for reform of the rule of law and public administration, the strengthening of law enforcement and the courts, and environmental protection.
And at the end of the day, as the Guardian reminds:
Any one of the 27 member states has the power to veto the accession of another country, making domestic politics … a decisive factor in deciding who enters the EU and who does not.
Ukraine hails ‘historic step’
For his part Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the Commission’s move, declaring on social media:
This is a strong and historic step that paves the way to a stronger EU with Ukraine as its member.
Ukraine war military assessment decidedly bleak
Before looking at its latest report, we first turn to the Belfer Centre’s Russia in Review for the week of 27 October – 3 November 2023.
The section on Things to Know includes the following:
- Commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces Valery Zaluzhny has admitted that his forces’ offensive has reached a stalemate….
- One of Zelensky’s close aides told Time that even if the U.S. and its allies come through with all the weapons they have pledged, “we don’t have the men to use them.”
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky remains staunchly opposed to peace talks and he is so convinced of Ukraine’s victory that one of his closest aides has described it as delusion, Time reports.
Stephen Walt, writing on 8 November for the paywalled Foreign Policy, had a similarly grim assessment. Starting first with the situation just prior to the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, he writes:
The war was not going well…: Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive had stalled, the balance of military power seemed to be shifting gradually toward Moscow, and hopes that Kyiv could regain its lost territory either by force of arms or through negotiations were fading.
And then came the Gaza war
It is not just that the war was going badly for Ukraine prior to the Gaza war. In Stephen Walt’s view, that conflict has undermined the effort even further:
The Gaza war is dominating press coverage and making it harder to rally support for a new U.S. aid package [for Ukraine].
Walt cites a recent Gallup poll conducted from October 4 to October 16, which found that 41 percent of Americans now believe the US is giving Ukraine too much support, up from only 29 percent back in June.
Artillery ordnance will go to Israel, not Ukraine
On the critical issue of artillery ordnance, Walt writes:
America’s shortfall in artillery ordnance, so desperately needed by Ukraine, will be exacerbated further by Israel getting artillery rounds and other weaponry that might otherwise have gone to Ukraine.
Western allies talking with Ukraine about peace negotiations
Russia in Review, Nov. 3-9, 2023 Things to Know
This week’s Russia in Review has extensive coverage of an NBC report entitled U.S., European officials broach topic of peace negotiations with Ukraine, sources say (Courtney Kube, Carol E. Lee and Kristen Welker, 3 November 2023).
They summarize the main points of these discussions and Ukraine’s reaction as follows:
“it’s time to do a deal” – former senior US administration official
- U.S. and European officials have begun quietly talking to the Ukrainian government about what possible peace negotiations with Russia might entail to end the war, according to one current senior U.S. official and one former senior U.S. official familiar with the discussions.
- Biden administration officials expect Ukraine to want more time to fight on the battlefield, particularly with new, heavier equipment, “but there’s a growing sense that it’s too late, and it’s time to do a deal,” the former senior administration official said. It is not certain that Ukraine would mount another spring offensive.
NATO could offer some security guarantees … without [membership]
- As an incentive for Zelensky to consider negotiations, NATO could offer Kyiv some security guarantees, even without Ukraine formally becoming part of the alliance, officials said. That way the Ukrainians could be assured that Russia would be deterred from invading again.
No indication of Putin’s readiness to negotiate
The NBC report also stated that, according to two US officials,
The Biden administration does not have any indication that Putin is ready to negotiate with Ukraine.
The Rideau Institute comments:
Readers may recall that negotiations between Ukraine and Russia back in the early days of the war foundered on the refusal by the United States to even consider the issue of security guarantees, not because this was an insurmountable problem but because of their uninterest at that time in a negotiated outcome.
One wants to weep at what might have been.
Polls in Ukraine on a negotiated settlement shifting slightly
Readiness for a negotiated settlement with Russia has increased in a small but still significant way for the first time since the invasion began, polling and focus group studies show, rising to 14 percent from 10 percent, though the vast majority of Ukrainians still staunchly reject trading territory for peace.
ISRAEL, PALESTINE AND THE WAR ON GAZA
The situation as of 10 November 20223 (Editor’s note: the humanitarian situation in Gaza has only become catastrophically worse since then.)
Israel has killed over 11,000 civilians in Gaza since October 7, mostly women, children and the elderly. 1,400 Israelis are believed to have been killed in the Hamas attack on Israel, with around 240 taken hostage.
UN says over 100 United Nations employees killed in Israel’s war on Gaza
The UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) announced on 10 November that more than 100 UN employees have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war.
Devastated. Over 100 @UNRWA colleagues confirmed killed in 1 month.
— Philippe Lazzarini (@UNLazzarini) November 10, 2023
WHO says Gaza’s largest hospital being bombarded
The largest hospital in Gaza, where up to 50,000 people are sheltering, is facing bombardment, the World Health Organization has said. The Guardian reports:
Graphic daytime videos posted online appeared to show screaming and bloodied people, including children, in the grounds of al-Shifa hospital in the heart of Gaza City.
The Reuters news agency said it had verified the footage….
Editor’s note: As we work on this blog post, Al Jazeera images on the television show Gazan doctors operating in pitch dark by the light of their cell phones.
Hamas has 240 hostages; Israel has 2.2 million
Let us be absolutely clear about what is happening. Hamas has taken 240 hostages and this is a war crime. In response, Israel is holding 2.2 million Gazans, the majority of whom are women and children, hostage — denying them food, water, fuel, and medicine, while subjecting them to intensive aerial and naval bombing and artillery fire.
Investigation shows IDF video alleging Hamas tunnel under Qatari hospital entirely false
In justifying the bombing of hospitals, schools, apartment blocks and refugee camps Israel says that Hamas is located in those sites. Independent on-site verification is not possible in a war zone.
But Sanad, Al Jazeera’s digital investigation agency, has disproved the latest claim by Israeli authorities that there is a tunnel for Hamas fighters under the Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Hospital for Rehabilitation and Prosthetic Hospital, commonly known as the Qatari Hospital.
A video released by Israel’s military showed a hatch in the hospital courtyard, right next to an exterior wall, that they alleged leads to a Hamas tunnel.
However, Sanad’s investigation shows that
this is simply the access hatch for a [self-contained] water reservoir that the hospital uses to fill therapeutic pools for amputees, water the grounds, and a reserve water source in case of emergency.
For all of the details, we highly recommend watching this short video by clicking on the arrow below.
An Al Jazeera digital investigation found no grounds to the Israeli forces claim that there is a Hamas tunnel under Gaza's Sheikh Hamad Hospital ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/4640OprGwk
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) November 7, 2023
The Rideau Institute comments:
We also remind, once again, that using civilian infrastructure to hide military entities is a war crime. But this does not in any way lessen Israel’s legal responsibility not to engage in deliberate, indiscriminate, or disproportionate targeting of civilians.
We call on media outlets to include this vital qualifier when airing footage of IDF claims about Hamas and human shields.
Belgium’s Prime Minister condemns “completely disproportionate” Israeli bombing
Reuters reports that Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told reporters on 7 November 2023,
Bombing down a refugee camp because it allegedly houses one Hamas leader is completely disproportionate. It is never acceptable that so many civilian casualties are caused trying to eliminate one person.
Netanyahu rejected early five-day ceasefire-for-hostages deal
More information is emerging on the Qatari-led hostage negotiations, with the Guardian.com reporting:
According to three sources familiar with the talks, the original deal on the table involved freeing children, women and elderly and sick people in exchange for a five-day ceasefire, but the Israeli government turned this down and demonstrated its rejection with the launch of the ground offensive.
As for the state of the talks now, following the visit of CIA Director William Burns to Cairo, the Guardian further reports:
Sources briefed on the talks told Reuters that the group discussed allowing small amounts of fuel into Gaza for humanitarian purposes, which Israel has so far refused, as well as the deal to free a small number of hostages in exchange for a ceasefire of one or two days. The outcome of the talks, however, remained unclear.
Four-hour daily humanitarian pauses to facilitate Israeli ground operation
According to the Associated Press and other media outlets, US national security spokesman John Kirby said:
a daily humanitarian pause would be announced Thursday and … the Israelis had committed to announcing each four-hour window at least three hours in advance.
Netanyahu elaborated on this in a Fox News interview:
in specific locations for a given period, a few hours here, a few hours there, we want to facilitate a safe passage of civilians away from the zone of fighting.
The Rideau Institute comments:
This proposal will facilitate Israel’s ground offensive and do nothing to address the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Gaza, while illustrating the “tail is wagging the dog,” insofar as Israel-US relations are concerned.
A further word about Israel forcing Gazans south
In its latest report, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) states:
On 9 November, between 50,000 and 80,000 people — mostly walking — were forced to move from north to south.
As we have previously reported, the south is now vastly overcrowded and, like the rest of Gaza, lacking in the most basic necessities of life. In addition, periodic bombing continues there.
In addition to these manifold risks, the respected Arab Digest has further warned:
once Gaza City and the north are pacified the IDF will move into the south
Arab Digest explains that
a retired general and close confidante of Prime Minister Netanyahu was reported as saying that once Gaza City and the north are pacified the IDF will move into the south as it “also had Hamas infrastructure that needs to be destroyed.”
Canadian Foreign Minister says we need to work on a ceasefire
The Toronto Star reported on 9 November that
Canada agrees with France’s president on the need to “work for a ceasefire” in the Israel-Hamas war, said Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly Thursday.
The article continues:
It’s the first time a leading Canadian government official has embraced the term “ceasefire” as Israel’s ground and air assault on Gaza continued more than four weeks after the Oct. 7 Hamas incursion into Israel triggered the war.
The Toronto Star went on to make clear, however, that Canada’s Foreign Minister, like President Macron, was not calling for a ceasefire now.
President Macron made his statement at the opening of a humanitarian aid conference for Gaza in Paris on 8 November, saying:
In the immediate term, we need to work on protecting civilians. To do that, we need a humanitarian pause very quickly and we must work towards a ceasefire.
President Macron also stated:
Civilians must be protected, that’s indispensable and non negotiable and is an immediate necessity.
The Rideau Institute comments:
If the humanitarian pause were a meaningful concept, then it would be a ceasefire of sufficient duration to facilitate the scale of humanitarian assistance that Gazan civilians now need. This is what is “indispensable” and what should be “non-negotiable”.
As for Israel’s view of the situation, France24.com reports that, at the Paris humanitarian aid conference,
Moshe Tetro, an Israeli military officer handling civil affairs in Gaza, said on Thursday that although “the civil situation in the Gaza Strip is not an easy one”, the state sees “no humanitarian crisis.”
RI President Peggy Mason comments:
What I find particularly dishonourable is the failure of Western military analysts, fully versed in the laws of war, to indicate honestly that Israel has chosen a method of prosecuting this war — a manifestly illegal one in my view — that seeks to minimize Israeli military casualties at the direct expense of thousands of innocent civilians.
Do we really have to blindly follow the United States in this matter of life and death for so many?
We reiterate our demand — in the name of international law and our country’s clear obligations thereunder, and in the name of our common humanity — that the Government of Canada forthrightly announce its support for and its commitment to doing everything it can diplomatically:
- To secure an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and to ensure
- the urgent and adequate provision of food, fuel, medicine, and other humanitarian assistance to Gaza;
- the unconditional restoration of water and electricity;
- the protection of medical facilities; and
- the facilitation of safe passage for the critically ill and those requiring treatment abroad.
We again call on the Government to use its best endeavours to secure the urgent release and return of the hostages, and we stress, in that regard, the contribution that an immediate ceasefire could make to this end.
We further reiterate our call on the Government of Canada to halt all arms exports to Israel.
WE ALL HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY
The parliamentary e-petition that we referenced in last week’s blog – calling for an immediate ceasefire – now has over 210,000 signatures. It will remain open for more signatures until 23 Nov 2023 at 3:20 pm EDT.
LET THE PRIME MINISTER AND OTHER PARLIAMENTARIANS KNOW THAT YOU ARE DEMANDING AN IMMEDIATE CEASEFIRE AND FULL HUMANITARIAN ACCESS TO GAZA.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: < email@example.com >
Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly: < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh: < Jagmeet.Singh@parl.gc.ca >
Leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre: < email@example.com >
Leader of the Bloc Quebecois Yves-François Blanchet: < Yves-Francois.Blanchet@parl.gc.ca>
Green Party Critic Elizabeth May: < Elizabeth.May@parl.gc.ca >
And find your local Member of Parliament HERE.
Lest we forget.
Photo credit: Naaman Omar, apaimages (Gaza destruction) Wikimedia Commons (In Flanders Field)