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After 11 Days of Fighting, Gaza Cease-Fire Holds

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Gaza cease-fire holds after 11-day battle, South Korean President Moon Jae-in visits the White House, and the G-20 Global Health Summit launches in Rome.

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Gaza Cease-Fire Holds

It’s only 10 hours old, but a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas appears to be holding following 11 days of Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket launches in the most intense fighting between the two sides since 2014.

Hailing the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire on Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden said his administration “will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy” toward pursuing peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. Biden said he would work through the United Nations to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Gaza, with funds going through the Palestinian National Authority and not Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist group. Biden also pledged to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, which largely countered the more than 4,000 rockets launched from Gaza.

Politically speaking, leaders in both Israel and Gaza have bolstered their own status. Hamas claimed to receive assurances on halting impending evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem as part of the cease-fire agreement (something Israel denies), underlining its claim to be the legitimate defenders of the Palestinian people in contrast to its rivals in the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority. Hamas will need all the political goodwill it can muster as its military capacities have likely been severely degraded.

For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it has bought him more time as prime minister and scuppered the chances of his rival, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, to form a government that could have deposed him. If Israel holds its fifth election in two years, Netanyahu hopes voters will reward his hard line in Gaza and return to his Likud party after some flirted with right-wing alternatives in April’s election.

The human toll. Abstract political victories have been paid for with very real human losses. Gaza officials said 232 Palestinians were killed by Israeli bombs in the past 11 days, including 65 children. Twelve people in Israel, including two children, were killed by Hamas rockets. In Gaza, roughly 91,000 Palestinians have been displaced, with the majority taking refuge in U.N.-run schools.

Rebuilding. The destruction in Gaza will take years to rebuild, according to Matthias Schmale, the Gaza director of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East; 16,800 housing units were damaged in the bombings, with 1,000 completely destroyed, according to Gaza’s housing ministry. “The biggest damage out of all of this is trauma,” Schmale told Foreign Policy, adding mental health support needs to be part of any future investment. “Buildings you can rebuild. But people’s lives, that won’t be easy.”

What next for Biden? Elise Labott wrote in Foreign Policy that rather than starting a new peace process, the Biden administration should apply its own democratic standards to the region. For Palestinians, “now is the time for the United States to stop dancing around the misery they face under Israeli occupation,” Labott wrote, suggesting the Biden administration focus on pushing for an end to Gaza’s blockade while urging reforms (and elections) for the Palestinian leadership.

On Israel, Biden should apply the same human rights standards he does with other allies and “needs to end the impunity that has enabled discriminatory policies toward Palestinians and made Palestinian governance in the occupied territories more difficult.” In the near term, Labott wrote, “the United States should push Israel to guarantee equal protection under the law for all its citizens, including canceling home evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and reining in Israeli extremists.”

In the immediate term, Biden is reportedly close to choosing an ambassador to Israel and is dispatching his Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region.

What We’re Following Today

Moon Jae-in at the White House. South Korean President Moon Jae-in visits the White House today, only the second world leader (after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga) to meet with Biden in person since he took office. North Korea is likely to feature high on the agenda as will vaccine access since South Korea faces a supply shortage. The trip is likely to be Moon’s last White House visit before his term-limited presidency ends next year. As S. Nathan Park wrote in Foreign Policy, the meeting could be the “right time for the Biden White House to announce a new era of the 68-year-old alliance” and begin treating South Korea as an equal partner rather than “as one of the chess pieces in dealing with North Korea.”

Rouhani says deal close. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the United States has agreed to lift sanctions on its oil, shipping, and banking sectors, and he told a cabinet meeting the remaining points being discussed at indirect talks in Vienna were “minor issues.” Factions within Iranian politics appear to be jockeying ahead of a June presidential election as an unnamed Iranian official appeared to contradict Rouhani on state television. The official said the United States would not “completely” lift sanctions and instead, they would be temporarily suspended “over a long period of time and in various steps.” Efforts to rein in Iran’s nuclear program gather more urgency as a monitoring agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency expires today.

G-20 health summit. Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to address today’s G-20 Global Health Summit, hosted by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in Rome. The meeting is expected to lead to the endorsement of a set of principles around preventing future pandemics as well as a commitment to fund the World Health Organization’s Access to COVID-19 Tools-Accelerator, an initiative to expand access to tests, vaccines, and therapeutics. The session is also likely to see a discussion on a COVID-19 vaccine intellectual property waiver proposal, currently before the World Trade Organization.

Keep an Eye On

Europe freezes China deal. The European Parliament voted on Thursday overwhelmingly in favor of freezing the ratification of a new investment agreement with China. The move was a further tit-for-tat after Beijing sanctioned 10 EU parliamentarians in retaliation for Western sanctions over the treatment of its Uyghur population in Xinjiang. “With its sanctions, China has miscalculated. They should learn from their mistakes and rethink. Because of China’s sanctions, the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment has been put into the freezer,” said Reinhard Butikofer, one of European Parliament’s members sanctioned by China.

Global minimum taxes. In Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development talks, the Biden administration has agreed to a 15 percent global minimum tax on large multinationals, the Financial Times reported, a reduction of its previous demand of a 21 percent minimum. The move would apply to profits generated in each country regardless if it has a physical presence in the country. The measure is fiercely opposed by low corporate tax countries like Ireland, which currently has a 12.5 percent rate.

Chad’s democracy. The African Union has called for a democratic transition in Chad within the next 18 months in response to a military takeover following the death of Chadian President Idriss Déby in April. The junta has already put a civilian transitional leadership in place and said in April it would hold elections within 18 months. On Thursday, the African Union said it “categorically rejects any form of extension of the transition period.”

Odds and Ends

A driver of a Japanese bullet train is facing disciplinary action after he left the controls unattended to take a bathroom break while the train and its 160 passengers were traveling at more than 90 miles per hour. The driver left the cockpit for three minutes in total as an unqualified train conductor remained behind. According to Central Japan Railway, the train line’s operator, the driver felt abdominal pain and wanted to avoid delaying the train by having to stop at the next station. The driver may have gotten away with the infraction had the company not noticed an extremely rare occurrence for Japan’s Shinkansen trains: It was running one minute behind schedule.