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Beyond the hostage deal: Best of the analysis

TJI Wrap
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Beyond the hostage deal: Best of the analysis

Published: 28 November 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Israel has agreed to extend the ceasefire for two days in exchange for 20 more hostages. Analysts explore what the hostage deal means for strategy, ethics and the future of Israelis and Palestinians.

Thirty-nine Israeli and 10 Thai hostages have been released so far and another 11 Israelis are expected to be released today. The ceasefire was due to end on Tuesday but Hamas has agreed to release 20 more hostages in exchange for two more days of ceasefire. Israel says it will extend the ceasefire by a day for every 10 hostages released.

IDF messaging suggests Gaza truce unlikely to last much beyond Tuesday (Dan Sabbagh, Guardian)

Gaza’s truce is unlikely to last significantly beyond Tuesday, with Israel’s military stepping up pressure on Sunday to restart the air and ground offensive in a campaign that some experts predict could run into next year.

The four-day halt in fighting, described by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) as “an operational pause”, is scheduled to end on 7am on Tuesday if the agreed transfer of 50 hostages held by Hamas and others in Gaza goes to plan.

There is an expectation in many quarters that the pause will be extended for a few days, and the current agreement allows for an extra day’s truce for every 10 hostages Hamas is willing to release.

It is estimated there were another 40 children and women who are not soldiers and who were not covered by the initial agreement, giving scope for more phased releases, although not all the hostages are under the direct control of Hamas, but instead Palestinian Jihad or other, smaller armed groups.

That may lead to several days of extensions, but the IDF has been unambiguously signalling its desire to restart the military campaign. It’s head, General Herzi Halevi, put out an uncompromising message to all of the country’s soldiers on Sunday morning.

He described meeting many of them after long hours of combat: “I saw reflected in your eyes the magnitude of the moment, the fighting spirit and determination to achieve all the objectives of the war. I heard you tell me: ‘We want to fight until we return the hostages.’ And so we are doing just that.”

The deep moral dilemma at the heart of the hostage deal (Frida Ghitis, CNN)

The war is not over. And the deal arguably strengthens Hamas, allowing it to claim credit, catch its breath and regroup. Whatever Palestinians feel toward the organisation that unleashed this round of fighting — and we will not hear many in Gaza now openly criticise Hamas — there’s little question that as long as this group remains in power, the future looks bleak for Gazans.

For Israel, this deal is bitingly bittersweet. Negotiating with a terrorist organisation that has just slaughtered and brutalised more than 1000 of the country’s citizens and remains committed to Israel’s destruction — repeatedly confirming that goal — is not only hard to swallow, it’s a moral and strategic dilemma of the highest order.

Israel has done this before, and paid a high price for it. When Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit was taken hostage in 2006, the government ended up trading more than 1000 Palestinian prisoners from its jails in exchange for his freedom in 2011.

When the pale, reed-thin Shalit finally left Gaza after half a decade in captivity, one of the men let out of prison in the deal was Yahya Sinwar. Sinwar is now the political head of Hamas in Gaza and believed to be the mastermind of the October 7 operation.

Daniele Aloni and her daughter Emilia are reunited with their family  (IDF)
Daniele Aloni and her daughter Emilia are reunited with their family (IDF)

The hostage release shows us this war won’t be endless — because military and diplomatic pressure work (Dany Bahar, The Forward)

This deal is proving to work because of a mix of factors. Israel’s massive and unprecedented military campaign — which has resulted in a reported two-thirds of Gaza’s population being displaced and more than 14,000 casualties (as estimated by the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry) — has, in fact, been effective in manoeuvring Hamas into a corner. That’s especially true as Israel has reportedly killed a significant number of Hamas’ top operatives and destroyed parts of its infrastructure. 

Make no mistake: Hamas leaders did not suddenly become humanitarians. They are responding to pressure. This temporary but necessary success shows that Israel’s military campaign must continue until we are able to secure the release of all the hostages still held in Gaza.

But the military is not the only source of the pressure on Hamas. Diplomatic efforts happening in the background simultaneously have helped.

Egypt’s role, in particular, is a reminder that Israel should continue to deepen relations with its neighbours. And it’s a call for the United Arab Emirates, and perhaps more importantly the Saudis, to become involved in negotiating further deals. Especially as Hamas loses its grip on Gaza, and a strong long-term solution involving the international community for the strip’s governance is needed, the involvement of countries like Saudi Arabia, which have historically hesitated to engage with Israel, could help legitimise among the Arab world an international effort to create a government for Gaza in tandem with Palestinian moderates post-Hamas.

So we need to scale up these efforts. More background diplomacy is needed with Qatari intermediates, with direct involvement and pressure from the US. 

Thai hostages released from Hamas captivity after a deal negotiated by their government (X)
Thai hostages released from Hamas captivity after a deal negotiated by their government (X)

The uncomfortable truth behind the hostage deal: War is hell, but it worked (Rob Eshman, The Forward)

Initially, I believed there had to be a better way. Beyond the humanitarian disaster brought to Gaza by the Israeli war machine, I found it difficult to imagine that Israel’s long-term strategic interests could possibly be served by becoming an international pariah.

But now, as Hamas has so far upheld the terms of a hostage release deal many of us could never have imagined, seven weeks ago, they would have ever agreed to, I have to ask myself: Would a less devastating method have worked?

If Israel had held off on attacking unless Hamas returned the hostages and its senior leaders surrendered, could it have built on the initial international outrage over the October 7 massacre to create a coalition of pressure on Hamas?

It’s nice to think so. But the way that so many across the world have worked to justify Hamas’s atrocities calls into question how long Israel’s clear moral upper hand might actually have lasted. And the longer Hamas dragged out the hostage release, the more attention it would have garnered, and the more power it would have accrued. The group held just one soldier, Gilad Shalit, captive from 2006 to 2011, working to leverage greater gains from Israel in exchange for his release.

“This is key to understanding the war,” wrote Rettig Gur. “Israel isn’t speaking to the West.”

Instead, “Its message is for Hamas, and this message is the strategic heart of the war effort,” he wrote: “None of the tactics that once kept you safe apply anymore.”

Margalit Mozes is led back into Israel (IDF)
Margalit Mozes is led back into Israel (IDF)

Israelis and Palestinians can no longer avoid a fateful choice about their future (Dahlia Scheindlin, Guardian)

Gaza itself is a stand-in for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and occupation as a whole. Israel has had choices to make over the decades, not only during a crisis. Palestinians, pinned to the ground by Israel, by their own leadership, by history itself, had choices, too, and has them even now – some Palestinians are already weighing those options. In fact, there is no ein breira. As Israel crushes Gaza, it may say “we have no choice” but when the guns fall silent – for a time, at least – at every step there will be more such choices to make.

Should Israel revive the war, as Benjamin Netanyahu has promised? Should Hamas choose the path of total destruction for its cynical power play to dominate Palestinian politics? And perhaps the biggest question of all: should Israelis and Palestinians take the risk of changing the rules of the game, reviving a long-atrophied path of political resolution to head off this hellish fate?

The risks are considerable: peace agreements involve painful concessions and setbacks, and generate violence from spoilers. History has shown that people will die during peace negotiations and even after peace is signed, like the victims of the Omagh bombing after the 1998 Good Friday agreement. And it’s worrying to consider precedent that political concessions are won through intolerable violence.

But people are dying cruelly today; it’s hard to imagine anything worse than the present. We have lived with war for ever, while a comprehensive peace agreement has never been tried.

The alternatives exist: such as an updated version of two states, ideally in a confederation arrangement, offering open borders, built-in security and economic cooperation between the two sides, sharing Jerusalem, and a more hopeful horizon. There is nothing simple about this path; the main winning argument for peace is that a policy of letting the occupation fester has failed.

Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani waits for the arrival of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Lusail, Qatar, last month (Jacquelyn Martin /AP)
Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani waits for the arrival of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Lusail, Qatar, last month (Jacquelyn Martin /AP)

Why Qatar Needs to Be a Safe Haven for Hamas (Saeed Kahn, Haaretz)

How can a country play host to both the largest US military base in the Middle East and a US and UK proscribed terrorist organisation? 

This is the question being asked of the tiny Gulf nation Qatar. Since 2012, Hamas’s political leadership has kept an official office in Doha. And since October 7, when it launched the deadliest civilian attack on Israel in its history, committing the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, keeping such company became news as did the country’s efforts to be a critical bridge for mediation; a go-between for the West and the terrorist group when a crisis demands de-escalation. 

How can Qatar be on the side of Israeli hostages and be publicly thanked by the Israeli national security advisor, yet host Hamas? In 2012, after Hamas backed the uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, they were forced to leave Damascus. The US turned to Qatar. It did not do this for the preservation of Hamas. Instead, it recognised the group was a political reality that was not going to cease existing anytime soon. 

The choice for Hamas was between Doha and Tehran, who had funded them and provided logistical support. Better they dwell in plain sight in Qatar, rather than in US adversary Iran. 

The communication link to Hamas through Doha has proved de-escalatory in the past. This time, it may or may not. But its existence at least gives mediation and the release of hostages a chance, rather than defaulting to all-out war. 


Thai hostage release: Art went to Israel for a better life. His wife doesn’t want him going back (The Jewish Independent)

Top photo: Yoni Asher embraces his wife Doron and their daughters Raz, four, and Aviv, two, after their release (IDF)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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