Israel-Hamas Deal: Calculations Behind the 'Pause' and the Release of Hostages

The Israelis want complete victory over Hamas, regardless of the cost of civilian casualties.

5 min read
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On Wednesday, Israel and Hamas announced that they had agreed on a deal through which the militant group would release some Israeli hostages in exchange for a pause in the fighting in Gaza, along with the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners.

The next day, it was revealed that the deal would not be operationalised before Friday. Apparently, the operational plan for the release of the hostages is yet to be finalised.

The deal will be the first major pause in the war, and opens up the possibility of a longer pause and even a ceasefire.


Details of the Deal

The pause will consist of two phases.

In the first, Israel will halt its operation for four days, and each day, a group of the hostages will be brought to the Rafah crossing with Egypt by the Red Cross where they will be identified by the Israelis.

Meanwhile, Israel would release 150 Palestinian women and children prisoners, again in four groups over four days. Israel would also allow 300 aid trucks and more fuel to enter Gaza from Egypt.

In the second phase, Hamas could release more women and children, as well as elderly people, and Israel will extend the pause one day for every additional 10 hostages released and also release 30 Palestinian prisoners for the same.

Hamas and its allied groups took more than 240 hostages when their gunmen breached the Israeli border fence, rampaging through towns and settlements on 7 October.

Since then, only four hostages have been released. One was rescued by the Israeli forces and two have been found dead.


Hamas is Unlikely to Easily Let Go of All the Hostages

This first truce in the near seven-week war was made possible thanks to the intense diplomacy steered by the US and Qatar, aided by Egypt.

Even before Israel began its ground operations, the efforts had begun to stave off the attack and secure the return of hostages, but it was only now that some kind of a deal could emerge.

The Israeli decision was endorsed by its full Cabinet which met for over five hours on Wednesday, and made it clear that after the pause, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) would continue the war, with the goal of getting all the hostages back, finishing off the Hamas, and “making sure there can be no threat to Israel from Gaza.”

For its part, Hamas said in a statement that even while agreeing to a truce, “our victorious fighters will remain on the lookout to defend our people and defeat the occupation.”

Through its terrible terrorist act of killing Israeli civilians and taking hostages, Hamas' calculation was that there could be leverage in the latter. This has been proved right and there has been considerable domestic pressure on Netanyahu to bring the hostages back home, as well as from the US and other countries whose nationals are in the hands of Hamas.

For this reason, Hamas is unlikely to easily let go of all the hostages, especially the personnel of the IDF that they have captured. Given the Israeli determination to finish off Hamas, a grim scenario is that many of the hostages may die before being rescued.


Just How the Situation Will Play Out is Not Clear

The Israelis want complete victory over Hamas, regardless of the cost of civilian casualties.

The Americans, who have major clout over the Israelis, continue to underwrite Tel Aviv's goals of eliminating Hamas, though they call for “humanitarian pauses” (not a ceasefire) and the need for reaching humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Their principal focus has been on the rescuing of the hostages among whom are a few US nationals.

In a speech at a BRICS Plus meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a ceasefire and an end to what he termed “collective punishment” of the people of Gaza by Israel. And at a virtual G20 meeting, Prime Minister Modi said, “We believe that terrorism is unacceptable to all of us.” He went on to say that “deaths of civilians anywhere is condemnable. It is important that humanitarian aid should reach in time and is uninterrupted.”

As of now, both sides have made it clear that the war will resume when the hostage transfer ends. Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel intends to continue the war till it meets its goals which were reiterated on Tuesday by his office, that is, the return of all hostages and the complete elimination of Hamas.

However, domestic and international pressures will likely prevent Israel from regaining the momentum of its military operation once the pause begins. After recovering the first batch of hostages, domestic pressure on Israel to get all of them back will increase.


The 'Day After' Problem 

Over the weeks, American warnings to Israel on the need to ensure that the military campaign avoids civilian casualties have intensified.

The Israelis are now looking at southern Gaza which is now flooded by a million refugees from the largely destroyed north. They are now urging the people in the south to move into “safe zones” without specifying where such areas are.

The White House is now cautioning the Israelis against the southern move “absent a cohesive plan” to protect the already high density of civilians who are there. US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that Israel “has an obligation to factor that into their planning.”

But given their record so far, the Israelis are likely to ignore America's cautioning.

Down the line, the Americans are worrying about what is called the “day after” problem, that is, what will happen once Israel declares victory. The problem is, as The Economist noted, “no one wants responsibility for running and rebuilding the ruined enclave.”

The Arabs don’t want to be seen as cleaning up Israel’s mess and policing fellow Arabs. The Palestinian Authority does not have the capacity.

In the 1950s, India was part of the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) in Gaza.

The mission which saw the commitment of over 12,000 Indian Army personnel in a peacekeeping mission over a decade, ended in 1967 before the second Arab-Israeli war.

But it is doubtful whether New Delhi today has the stomach to undertake such a task in an environment that is much more complicated than before.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Hamas   Israel-Palestine 

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