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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed ahead a deal negotiated via Qatar, for a four-day truce and an exchange of 50 hostages for 150 Palestinian prisoners. Though the humanitarian and political pressure was mounting, Israel's all-out assault is suddenly halted, with unforeseen consequences for the future.
Updated Nov. 22, 2023 at 8:55 p.m.
PARIS — It's the first piece of good news in 46 days of war. In the early hours of Wednesday, Israel agreed to a deal that included a four-day ceasefire and the release of some of the hostages held by Hamas — 30 children and 20 women — in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, again women and children. The real question is what happens next.
But first, this agreement, negotiated through the intermediary of Qatar, whose role is essential in this phase, must be implemented right away. This is a complex negotiation, because unlike the previous hostage-for-prisoner exchanges, it is taking place in the midst of a major war.
On the Palestinian side, although Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is present in Doha, he does not make the decision alone — he must have the agreement of the leaders of the military wing, who are hiding somewhere in Gaza. It takes 24 hours to send a message back and forth. As you can imagine, it's not as simple as a phone call.
And on the Israeli side, a consensus had to be built around the agreement. Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right allies were opposed to the deal — in line with their eradication logic — even at the cost of Israeli lives. But the opposition of these discredited parties was ignored, and that will leave its mark.
The hardest question
What happens next? That's the most difficult question.
The truce will last four days, during which time captives will be exchanged, humanitarian aid will enter Gaza and fuel will be delivered.
But what happens after that? Does the fighting resume after a simple interlude?
Netanyahu committed his government to this last night. But the diplomats of several countries will be working hard to extend the ceasefire, if only to give Israel a chance of securing the release of more hostages.
The Americans are under pressure.
Israel's dilemma will be played out during these few days of military pause. The Israeli army has razed the northern third of the Gaza Strip to the ground, destroyed Hamas infrastructure and doubtless killed many of its fighters — but it is far from having achieved its objective of eradicating the Islamist movement.
Netanyahu, pictured on Nov. 13, had been full-speed ahead on the Gaza assault.
Kobi Gideon/Israeli Gpo/ZUMA
Showing its hand
Resuming the war as it has been for the past seven weeks will not be easy, though.
Firstly, the fact that an initial truce has been accepted will increase calls for a real ceasefire, as was done yesterday by the BRICS countries — China, Russia, South Africa and a few others — who will be taking this message to the United Nations Security Council.
Secondly, because the Americans are under pressure, both internally and externally: they have made it clear that they will not support an Israeli offensive in southern Gaza without a plan to reduce civilian casualties.
The terrible images from Gaza are a real political factor, and even if Israel doesn't care, their Western allies can't ignore them.
Finally, the pressure is also mounting to acknowledge that there can only be a political solution to the Palestinian problem — prolonging the war will not change this fact.
By showing its hand on the negotiating table to save the hostages, Israel has put an end to its logic of war. That, however, does not necessarily mean that a logic of peace will prevail.
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