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Snap Insight: Israel-Hamas truce is welcome, but unlikely to lead to less violence once it ends

BAHRAIN: At the opening panel of the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain on Saturday (Nov 18), White House adviser Brett McGurk, one of the speakers, hinted at what was to come in the war between Israel and Hamas.

Mr McGurk, the Middle East Coordinator at the United States’ National Security Council, told the audience that the “release of a large number of hostages would result in a significant pause in fighting and a massive surge in humanitarian relief”. It was a point he made several times, adding that Hamas had said that “if you want the hostages returned, we need fuel, more humanitarian supplies”.

His statement shows how neither side is willing to budge in the war, which is now well into its second month. For Israel and its main ally, the US, the message was: Release the hostages, and aid and a truce would follow. Hamas’ counter: Impose a ceasefire first, then we will release hostages.

On Wednesday, news broke that a deal had been agreed. The start time for a ceasefire will be announced within the next 24 hours and is expected to last at least four days.

In return for the pause in fighting, 50 women and children held hostage by Hamas will be freed. Details are sketchy, but the good news is that some hostages – in total, about 240 people were kidnapped by Hamas during its Oct 7 attacks – perhaps those most vulnerable, will soon be reunited with their loved ones.

It has been reported that in addition to Israeli citizens, more than half the hostages hold foreign and dual citizenship from about 40 countries including the US, Thailand, Britain, France, Argentina, Germany, Chile, Spain and Portugal.

At the same time, Israel will release 150 Palestinians prisoners and allow hundreds of trucks of humanitarian, medical and fuel aid to enter Gaza.

USING CIVILIANS AS CHESS PIECES

The deal spotlights again how both sides in the conflict have used civilians to further their aims. Israel’s pounding of Gaza was partly aimed at getting them freed, while Hamas took hostages knowing it could command a price for them.

Based on previous instances, we can be sure that the cost of securing the freedom of the remaining hostages, particularly if they are soldiers, will be much higher – in 2011, Israel exchanged 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners for a single trooper, Gilad Shalit, who was captured five years earlier.

The impending release of hostages, a pause in fighting, and the flow of aid are welcome developments. The truce and flow of aid, in particular, will bring untold relief to Palestinian non-combatants, who have borne the brunt of fighting.

Sadly, that is likely the only good news we are going to get in a while. In effect, the deal relieves pressure on both sides of the fight. Israeli citizens have turned up the heat on their government to do more on the hostage front. Hamas, meanwhile, has been roundly condemned internationally for holding women and children.

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Both sides have made no secret of the fact that once the ceasefire is over, they will again go at each other with hammer and tongs. Before the pause in fighting was formally announced, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the airwaves to debunk any notion that it would lead to wider moves.

“We are at war, and we’ll continue this war until we meet all our objectives,” he said. For its part, Hamas warned in a statement that “our hands will remain on the trigger”, among other things.

In effect, what both sides are saying is that they will keep fighting until the other is gone. That likely means the gloves will come off once the truce lapses, rather than a prelude to intense negotiations to arrive at a peaceful solution. One can only hope that will not be the case.

Carl Skadian, a former journalist and editor for 30 years, is Senior Associate Director at the Middle East Institute, NUS.

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