The Imminent Israel-Hamas Temporary Ceasefire — Can It Become Permanent?
A five-day ceasefire deal in the Gaza war appears imminent. In the past, such provisional truces sometimes turned permanent. But is this time different?
Leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza, say a deal is within reach. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he hopes “for good news soon,” while the government meets to discuss “the issue of the release of hostages.”
If confirmed, the deal believed to include a temporary ceasefire and release of some of the 240 hostages held by Hamas would be the biggest diplomatic breakthrough since the most deadly war in generations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exploded on Oct. 7.
Still such a deal would only be temporary, and partial, leaving open the question of remaining hostages, and a more sustained halt to the deadly fighting.
Hamas leaders went public late Monday about what they described as an imminent deal. They said they have handed over their response to Egypt and Qatar, which have been mediating negotiations, blaming the Israeli government, particularly Netanyahu, for any final delays in striking an agreement.
“We are close to achieving a truce deal,” Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ exiled leader, declared in a terse statement posted in the group’s channel on Telegram messaging app.
Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official, said in television interviews that the group will release some of the hostages it is holding, and Israel will also release Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
Netanyahu’s office announced meetings of three key decision-making bodies to discuss the hostage deal, and the prime minister said earlier Tuesday there has been headway made in negotiations.
"We are making progress,” the embattled premier told reservists, according to a statement from his office. “I don't think it's worth saying too much, not at even this moment, but I hope there will be good news soon."
How many hostages will be left?
Arab media however, reported that the deal would include a five-day humanitarian ceasefire across Gaza, during which Hamas would release up to 50 civilian hostages – women and minors. Israel would release up to 150 Palestinian women and children in its jails, according to Al-Shorouk, a Cairo based daily.
Reports say the six-page deal stipulates that the hostage-prisoner releases will take place in stages. It also said that Israel would allow the delivery of 300 trucks carrying aid, food, medical supplies, and fuel, into Gaza every day during the ceasefire.
Egypt and Qatar are both pushing hard to turn the momentum into a more lasting deal.
Similar details were also reported by Israeli media. The TV network Channel 12 added that Hamas also demanded improving the conditions of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, which have deteriorated since the Israeli current government came to power less than a year ago.
If the deal does go through, urgent questions will quickly follow: What happens next? What about the other (nearly 200 hostages)? Is there a chance for a longer-term (even permanent) truce?
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meets with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Cairo in 2022
Mediators will no doubt push for more negotiations that could extend both the length of the ceasefire and the number of hostages and prisoners exchanged. Egypt and Qatar are both pushing hard to turn the momentum into a more lasting deal. In previous wars, short-term pauses of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militants had led to permanent ceasefires.
This time, however, could prove different. Israel’s Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed that the military campaign wouldn’t stop until it destroys Hamas — and Hamas appears to be far from destroyed. He also said Israel would have security control over Gaza “for an indefinite period” after the war.
But there is also mounting pressure on the Israeli prime minister from the families of the hostages Hamas captured in its October attack, and from U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to reach a deal for a humanitarian truce to facilitate the release of hostages.
News about the imminent deal have also sparked heated reaction among Netanyahu hardline allies, and could fracture his governing coalition - the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir warned in a statement that such a deal “might bring a disaster,” according to Times of Israel daily.
We have to make sure that there's no new Hamas
“I’m very concerned because there is talk of some deal… we are being kept out [of the details], and we’re not being told the truth, he said. “The rumors are that Israel is again going to make a major mistake in a similar vein to the Shalit deal.”
He was referring to Hamas’ release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011 in return for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners including Yehia Sinwar, the group’s leader in Gaza, who is accused by Israel of being one of the masterminds of the October attack.
Netanyahu has maintained that his government’s war goal is destroying Hamas, and freeing the hostages, then establishing Israel-controlled security arrangements in the coastal strip.
"Once we defeat Hamas, we have to make sure that there's no new Hamas, no resurgence of terrorism, and right now the only force that is able to secure that is Israel," he said in an interview with NPR last week.
However, such a post-war scheme is rejected by many in the region including countries which have diplomatic ties with Israel.
For the long term, Arab governments have repeatedly called for Israel to stop the war and engage in negotiations with the aim of establishing an independent Palestinian state on the borders of June 1967 with East Jerusalem its capital.
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