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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why Israel Will Agree To A "Humanitarian Pause" — But Nothing More

Calls for a "humanitarian pause" are multiplying as the war rages on for almost a month, but the West is careful not to talk about a ceasefire, which Israel totally rejects. Where does that leave us in a search for a way out?

photo of soldiers walking in desert with tanks

IDF soldiers set to cross into Gaza

IDF handout via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — What do we mean when we talk about 'humanitarianism'? The word is being used more and more — a humanitarian "pause" has been requested of Israel, humanitarian aid is being sent to Gaza by numerous countries, and a humanitarian conference is to be held in Paris on Thursday.

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The needs are obviously immense, almost a month after the start of Israeli strikes on Gaza, following the October 7 massacre committed by Hamas in southern Israel.

Civilians are the first victims of the merciless war waged by the Jewish state against the Palestinian Islamist movement, and the aid reaching them is totally inadequate.

But during war, politics and diplomacy still matter. If Westerners are putting the emphasis on humanitarian action, it's not only to try to meet immediate needs, but also because they are either unwilling or unable to bring the fighting itself to a halt.

A French compromise

This has become a subject of tension both in the Middle East and in Western opinion itself. In Ramallah this weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, met with Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, who pleaded for a ceasefire when the United States was instead only asking for a "humanitarian pause."

A ceasefire is a halt to fighting to make way for diplomacy and politics

There's more than just nuance here, because a humanitarian "pause" or "truce" is merely an interlude in a war, to let aid through to the victims. It's essential and desirable. But after a few hours, all hell will again break loose: we've eased the pain, but we haven't solved anything.

A ceasefire, on the other hand, is a halt to fighting to make way for diplomacy and politics — an attempt to find a way out of the crisis. During her visit Sunday to Qatar, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna attempted to find a compromise by calling for "an immediate, lasting and sustained humanitarian truce... (that) must be able to lead to a ceasefire."

The problem is that Israel categorically refuses. Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that calls for a ceasefire are equivalent to a "surrender to Hamas." And he has demanded the release of the 240 or so hostages held in Gaza as a precondition for a cessation of hostilities.

Blinken and Herzog

photo of two men speaking in front of microphones

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Israeli President Isaac Herzog

Antony Blinken Office/ZUMA

U.S. pressure

As we've said many times before, only the United States has any real operational influence over Israel. It is therefore likely that, at some point, their demand for a "humanitarian pause" will be heard. Only because the Joe Biden administration is confronted with the divisions of the Democratic electorate on the Palestinian question.

Barak David, one of Israel's best-informed journalists, wrote this weekend that Anthony Blinken had argued to the Israeli war cabinet that such a "pause" would in fact allow Israel to "buy time" to carry out its operations in Gaza.

Such a possible "pause" will be welcome for the victims, who will be able to receive help. But at this stage, it will be no more than temporary. Israel has no intention of abandoning its military objective of eradicating Hamas from Gaza, nor the unspoken aim of the operation, which is revenge for the trauma of October 7.

Thus when you see "humanitarianism" breakthroughs from Israel, consider it a concession to the West, not the beginning of the end of this war. That, alas, is nowhere in sight.

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