Media reported that on the 47th day of the current Palestinian-Israeli war, the parties reached a deal for a four-day pause in fighting. This truce deal is aimed primarily at the exchange of hostages and the supply of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
“We will have to make difficult and important decisions regarding the hostages in the coming days,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on 21 November after visiting the headquarters of the army’s Gaza division. Gallant said the “government has a moral obligation” to return the hostages, provided, however, that the IDF continues to fulfil its duty towards achieving all its goals after the temporary truce deal ends.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said earlier that they were close to reaching a deal on a truce and hostage exchange. However, Haniyeh was not confident that the ceasefire would bring peace to the region. Moreover, on 22 November, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made a statement to the press before a government meeting dedicated to the hostage exchange agreement, said that Tel Aviv would continue the war against Hamas after the temporary truce deal ended. “We are at war and we will continue the war until all our goals are achieved. We will eliminate Hamas, return all those abducted and ensure that Gaza no longer poses any threat to Israel,” he said.
A special Israel Cabinet meeting convened on this issue voted for a temporary ceasefire, the exchange of hostages and the provision of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Three ministers opposed this decision. The government gave the public 24 hours to file a petition against the deal If they wished to do so.
It should be noted that it was very difficult for Israel to agree to the exchange of hostages, taking into account the hardest “Shalit deal.” We will remind, that on 11 October 2011, Israel agreed to exchange 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, of whom 450 were convicted of killing Israelis, for its soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped on 25 June 2006 by Hamas military units. Many liberated Palestinians later took up arms against Israel again. Surprisingly, in October 2011, when the cabinet of ministers voted on the issue of G. Shalit’s release, three ministers voted “against” (it seems that they are “on-call” staff members). The “Shalit deal” is still sensitive to Israeli society.
The terms of the truce deal were previously published in the media. In particular:
- Hamas releases 50 Israeli hostages (mostly women and children under 19) in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners;
- Israel allows the delivery of humanitarian aid to all areas of the Gaza Strip (about 300 trucks per day);
- During the truce period, Israel completely halts flights over the southern Gaza Strip and also stops flying for six hours daily, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., over the northern areas;
- Israel agreed not to arrest Palestinians in Gaza during the truce period and to ensure the freedom of movement of people on the road (from north to south);
- Hamas will remain on high alert to protect the Palestinians.
Around 7,000 Palestinian prisoners are currently held in Israeli jails. That includes more than 2,000 people held in administrative detention.
Israel claims Hamas is holding 239 hostages. Initially, on the first day of the war (October 7), the Palestinians took 245 people hostage (both Israelis and foreigners). However, not all of the hostages are in Hamas’s hands, as some were taken captive by the Islamic Jihad group and others. Thus, 30 of the 38 abducted children are being held hostage by Hamas. During the 1.5 months of war, Hamas released four hostages (two Israeli and two American) as a humanitarian step; one female soldier was released by the IDF. During the Israeli army’s ground operation, two hostages were killed and an elderly Israeli woman held captive by Islamic Jihad died.
Hamas intends to use the truce period to establish the whereabouts of the remaining Israeli hostages. They promised to report this on the fifth day of the truce. If the result is positive, the truce period may be extended. Tel Aviv hopes to release 100 hostages (mainly Israelis and possibly foreign) + 5 additional days of truce.
According to Israeli sources, 50 people are expected to be returned from captivity in the first stage of the 4-day truce period (30 children, 8 mothers and 12 other women). In exchange, Israel will release 150 Palestinian prisoners (women and children under 19 years old) who have not been convicted of murder.
In the second stage, the pause will be extended by a day for each additional batch of 10 hostages released by Hamas and three additional Palestinian prisoners will be released for each hostage freed. In other words, this truce may last more than four days, depending on Hamas’s willingness to transfer 10 hostages to Israel for each additional day of the truce.
The Israeli Air Force will stop flying over Gaza, regardless of north or south, for six hours of each truce day.
Israel has agreed to allow some 300 trucks with humanitarian aid, including fuel for hospitals and bakeries, into Gaza per day via the Rafah border crossing. Accordingly, the Red Cross will be allowed to visit the remaining hostages and provide them with needed medicine.
Tel Aviv warns Hamas that it will pay a “heavy price” for any violation of the truce deal.
According to preliminary data, Egypt will become a venue for a hostage exchange, where Israeli hostages from the Gaza Strip will arrive for their subsequent extradition to Israel, and Israel, in turn, will transfer the corresponding number of Palestinian prisoners to be sent to the Gaza Strip.
Israel praised the role of the United States and the efforts of President Joe Biden in achieving better terms for Tel Aviv in a hostage exchange deal with Hamas. Netanyahu expects to release more hostages under the US scheme than originally envisaged. At the same time, the main channel for transmitting Hamas’s proposals was established through Qatar and Egypt.
It is obvious that the Netanyahu government agreed to a temporary truce under pressure from the world and the Israeli community. While more and more countries around the world are harshly criticizing Israel and demanding that it stop the massacre of Palestinians (several countries have recalled their ambassadors from Israel and five countries have filed a lawsuit with the ICC against Netanyahu), the Israeli public is concerned about the fate of the innocent hostages and demands that the authorities release them.
It should be noted that Turkey is among the countries that actively advocated for a ceasefire and the achievement of at least a temporary humanitarian truce. Through the efforts of President Recep Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, this issue received particular attention on the international agenda, including in negotiations with the United States and EU countries (especially the recent visit of the Turkish leader to Germany), as well as at the UN.
It is not by chance that Turkish media reports that the Israelis are turning to the Turkish President for help in releasing the hostages. Recep Erdoğan himself, during a briefing in Berlin, invited Olaf Scholz to jointly promote a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, where Turkey would take responsibility for negotiations with Hamas and Germany (the West) would take responsibility for agreements with Israel.
On November 23, Turkey plans to send the Freedom Flotilla of a thousand ships with 4.5 thousand crew towards the Gaza Strip to deliver humanitarian cargo. The Turkish side notes that the Freedom Flotilla will not carry any weapons and hopes that Israel will respect international law.
However, Turkish maritime humanitarian aid efforts already suffered setbacks in 2010, when Israeli special forces used lethal force on nine Turkish nationals due to the Turkish Mavi Marmara’s failure to comply with demands to change its course. Then such a reaction from Israel led to the recall of ambassadors and a cooling of interstate relations with Turkey for 12 years. Currently, the parties have again recalled their ambassadors and political relations between Tel Aviv and Ankara are worse than before. Let us hope that this time Israel will not aggravate relations with Turkey through military action.
Meanwhile, as of 22 November, the Palestinians’ death toll in the Gaza Strip reached 14,128 people, of whom 5,890 were children and 3,920 women. According to The Wall Street Journal, Israel has been forced to move 100,000 troops to its northern border with Lebanon due to security concerns and preparations for a potential conflict with Iran-backed Hezbollah. War between Israel and Lebanon seems inevitable; it is just a matter of time.
At the same time, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq published footage of rocket attacks on US military bases: Ain al-Assad in the Iraqi province of Anbar and Al-Shaddadi in the south of the Syrian city of Al-Hasakah. In other words, the anti-Israeli resistance front is trying to keep Tel Aviv and Washington on edge while Hamas may get a temporary truce in the Gaza Strip.
Thus, one of the motivations for the Israeli government’s agreement to a temporary truce in the Gaza Strip may be a military issue. In particular, for tactical reasons, Tel Aviv is trying to minimize the threat of a two-front war with both the Gaza Strip in the south and Lebanon in the north. To this end, the Israeli General Staff is moving additional forces to the border with Lebanon. That is why, in his speech at a special Cabinet meeting, Benjamin Netanyahu, calling the temporary truce deal difficult but the right one, said that all security agencies supported this decision based on their professional assessment. “According to these assessments, our troops will remain safe during the temporary truce and our combat capabilities will be improved during these days of cessation of fighting,” he said.
Basically, a temporary cessation of hostilities does not mean the end of the war and the onset of peace. Accordingly, any army in a state of war uses a temporary truce to improve its combat positions, capabilities and tactical manoeuvre taking into account the theatre of war.
The Americans are trying, with their tough diplomacy and preventive strikes by the Pentagon against pro-Iranian groups in Syria and Iraq, to prevent the internationalization of the conflict in the Middle East.
As they say, “a bad peace is better than a good war.” However, to achieve it, there is still a considerable distance to go. “This is a long war with many stages,” IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari clearly said on 22 November at a special Cabinet meeting.
Aleksandr SVARANTS, Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the internet journal “New Eastern Outlook”.