If a deal is put on the table which says return the hostages, end the war and Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, we should take it. Even if the price includes emptying the prisons. Such a deal would leave Hamas in partial control of Gaza, capable of continuing to launch rockets and capable of fighting another day. The reason we should take this deal is because there is no other and not taking a deal is a death sentence or worse for the over 100 hostages still alive in Hamas captivity. There are those who will fire back that leaving Hamas in Gaza opens Israel up to another October 7th attack. That is utter nonsense. The previous Israeli governments (including those led by Bibi Netanyahu) and the IDF managed to prevent similar attempts at a full-scale attack for years. The way to prevent another pogrom inside our border is to ensure that our border is defensible, our intelligence is listening to the people on the front line, and that our troops are ready to respond immediately to any attempted attack. Wiping out Hamas but not dealing with the defense of our border would only invite another October 7th by a new Palestinian terrorist group which will certainly arise out of the ashes of the destruction in Gaza. So, it is not the War in Gaza which will prevent another disaster like the Black Shabbat, but a reboot of our defenses on our border with Gaza.
Why do I think there is no other deal? Because though Sinwar is clearly ready to sacrifice his life for his cause, he is not suicidal. There is a difference between being willing to die for your cause and wanting to die for your cause. One of our own revered national heroes, Jozeph Trumpeldor famously said “It’s nothing, it is good to die for our country”. Trumpeldor was dying at the time, but he was not suicidal. Sinwar wants to survive, not because he cherishes life (he actually has a much higher regard for the afterlife). He wants to survive to keep fighting his Zionist enemy until we are defeated and if he dies trying to do so, well…he can live with that.
The only way Sinwar survives this war and lives to fight another day is if he keeps the hostages close to him until he has a deal which allows him to live. Imagine what the war would have looked like if on October 7th, thousands of Israelis had been killed, wounded, and heinously attacked, but not kidnapped. If there were no hostages in Gaza, Israel would still have attacked Hamas, certainly with airpower and perhaps a land maneuver, but the Israeli counter-offense would have assuredly been even more explosive, especially in Khan Younis where it is suspected that the Hamas leadership is hiding. Flooding the tunnels and other massively destructive operations which are currently not considered due to the possible harm to the hostages, would have been employed posing a much more immediate threat to Sinwar and other senior Hamas leaders. Therefore, a deal which includes a ceasefire, with an Israeli option to renew fighting down the road is a non-starter for Sinwar. He will hold our hostages and all that entails until he reaches his two goals of the war, the release of all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons and the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza leaving Hamas in charge. He can hold out because of the hostages and because though he does not want to die, he is willing to die.
Every day, we hear from television pundits supposedly in the know and from members of the War Cabinet, “that only military pressure can secure the release of the hostages”. There is in fact no real evidence that this statement is true. It is true that what preceded the previous hostage deal was a serious counter-offensive by Israel in Gaza including a surprisingly robust ground maneuver. There were, however, many other factors which contributed to the success of the deal, including intense negotiations, compromises by Israel on humanitarian aid, the release of women prisoners and perhaps most importantly, the fact that Hamas was not really prepared to accommodate the large number of civilian prisoners taken on October 7th, which included children, women, and elderly. The tactic Sinwar is using to stay one step ahead of Israeli forces in Gaza is to be constantly on the move in the tunnels surrounded by hostages. How well would that have worked if he were surrounded by children and elderly hostages? When I hear those words “only military pressure will secure the release of the hostages”, I remember that those people who are speaking with such assurance and authority are the same people who told us before October 7th that Hamas was tamed and was not preparing to attack.
Agreeing to end the war will be an incredibly difficult and painful decision for the Israeli government. Such a decision will lead to the collapse of the government as the far rightwing parties abandon the coalition. The most difficult part of the decision, however, is not the decision to end the war but what to do afterwards. Israel cannot stay in Gaza with Hamas half-defeated. Israel must pull out and that will also be part of the agreement. Israel should use every bit of its diplomatic credit and influence to ensure that it does not hand Gaza back to Hamas as it did in 2005. Once Israel has made the decision in principle to end the war, the war will go on for many more months. First it will take time to reach a final deal, second the deal will include stages of release of the Israeli hostages and the Palestinian prisoners and multiple periods of a ceasefire. The months it will take for the war to end before Israel withdraws from Gaza must be used to negotiate an alternative governance body to Hamas in Gaza. If Israel manages to hand over the control of Gaza to a restructured PA or an international body, this would be a very important victory for Israel and signal hope for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
It is time to face the fact that the Israeli government has been avoiding for over 100 days, Israel cannot achieve its war goals to topple Hamas and at the same time free our hostages. The choice is ending Hamas or freeing the hostages. The situation inside Gaza must be changed through diplomatic channels with our American, European, and Arab allies, and include a political horizon for the Palestinians. The security of Israeli citizens along the border with Gaza must be guaranteed by new political leadership and new military conceptions.