Israel is under international pressure to agree to a ceasefire in its war with Hamas. Hamas started the war on Oct. 7 by massacring about 1,400 Israeli citizens and visitors, and kidnapping about 240 survivors who are now held hostage inside Gaza. (Although Hamas’s shocking attack was a war crime which violated international law, Hamas has suffered no penalty. To the contrary, Hamas’s “heroic victory” was celebrated in many Arab countries.)
Israel responded by declaring war on Hamas with the primary goal of destroying that terrorist organization. The secondary goal is to achieve the safe return of all the hostages. To defeat Hamas, Israel has bombed Gaza heavily, targeting Hamas military facilities but unavoidably causing numerous civilian casualties as Hamas military infrastructure is deeply embedded in civilian neighborhoods. The unfortunate outcome is that much of the world views Israel as a brutal aggressor bombing defenseless civilians in Gaza with Hamas as their brave defender.
Israel must recognize that completely destroying Hamas is not a feasible goal, just as completely destroying the Nazis in 1930’s Germany was not feasible. At this time Israel should consider how to achieve its secondary goal of freeing the hostages. An initial challenge to Hamas would be for Israel to publicly declare that the Jewish state would agree to a ceasefire only after all the hostages have been returned. Israel would continue to wage war until that time. Such a declaration would put the onus on Hamas to act quickly to end the bombing of Gaza.
Suppose that Hamas rejects Israel‘s initial challenge to gain the release of the hostages prior to accepting a ceasefire, and counters with the demand that Israel must first accept a ceasefire before Hamas will consider negotiating their release. In that case, to challenge Hamas a second time, Israel will need to acquire a bargaining chip.
To acquire a bargaining chip, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) could copy the unlawful tactic of Hamas by kidnapping, as gently as possible, about 240 Palestinian civilians from Gaza and holding them as temporary hostages inside Israel. The Palestinian hostages would range in age from the very young to the very old, corresponding to the ages of the hostages abducted by Hamas. The Palestinian hostages would be treated with courtesy and made comfortable. They would be advised that their confinement would only be temporary. By holding a number of hostages equal to the number estimated to be held by Hamas, Israel would demonstrate that the Jewish state values Palestinian lives as highly as Israeli lives.
Following the capture of Palestinian hostages, Israel would accept a ceasefire. During the ceasefire, Israel would try to negotiate a 1 to 1 exchange of hostages with Hanas. Hopefully, all of the estimated 240 hostages held by Hamas would be exchanged for the 240 hostages held by Israel.
A refusal by Hamas to exchange hostages would end the ceasefire, and would be reported to the world by Israel. In that case, Hamas would bear full responsibility for an inevitable increase in Palestinian casualties inside Gaza. Israel, despite a failure to secure the safe release of all the Israeli hostages, would promptly return all the Palestinian hostages to Gaza.
On the other hand, if all the hostages are exchanged, the ceasefire would continue with no additional casualties. Ideally, the next stage of the ceasefire would involve negotiations to require Hamas to surrender all of its weapons to an international peace keeping force which would include inspectors from Israel and the U.S.