This week’s suggestion of a time-limited ceasefire that would free remaining hostages in Gaza and return the bodies of the dead to their families seems, in the context of a bleak historical moment, encouraging. The optics of bartering for the lives (and dead bodies) of Jews is something that should (but won’t) make the world recoil in revulsion. Nonetheless, anything that brings the hostages home is worthy of consideration.
A comprehensive agreement brokered by third parties could have positive results, even as it includes the releasing of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, including those who are guilty of terrorism. At a minimum, it would not be the vague “ceasefire” some have been calling for, which others might view as letting Hamas off the hook for their atrocities. A blanket ceasefire without a release of hostages is, and should be, out of the question.
All this talk of ceasefire, though, should raise a question almost no one seems to be asking. With so many calls for Israel to declare a ceasefire, why is no one – seemingly no one, including Israel-supporting voices – calling for Hamas to surrender?
Conceivably, this particular war could end tomorrow if Hamas conceded. Why aren’t the voices who want to end this war now calling for the one step that could realize that goal?
Certainly, the idea of Hamas surrendering and their leaders facing justice is unpalatable to sympathizers in the West. There is a not-negligible number of activists and commentators who not only support the Palestinian “resistance” in theory, but support it at its most brutal, celebrating the kidnappings, rapes and murders as “amazing” and “brilliant” (in the words of just one college instructor on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery in October).
There is also the slightly more convincing idea that, while a democratic government like Israel’s may be swayed by overseas public opinion, a terror regime will not be. As fair as this assumption may seem on its face, evidence debunks it. Millions of people marching worldwide, dressings-down by the United States’ president and top diplomat, a show trial over “genocide” at the International Court of Justice and what seems like a world aligned against it seems to have altered the Israeli resolve not a gram.
The inevitable fallback position in these discussions is that Israel is the powerful party here and so holds the cards. The power differential does not mean, though, that Israelis either are not vulnerable or that they are to blame for the war. For the families of those murdered on Oct. 7 and the Israeli soldiers killed in this conflict, power differentials are a pile of dirt next to empty chairs at their tables. For whatever power discrepancies might exist, Hamas has shown its ability to breech Israel’s defences, and its resolve to do so again, if it can. Hamas has the one card up its sleeve that could end this war: surrender.
Calls for a ceasefire imply that Israel should surrender itself to a future of perpetual terror, because Hamas has repeatedly expressed the determination to fight until Israel is eliminated – setting up a zero-sum situation in which anything short of the complete eradication of Hamas is a defeat for Israel. On the other hand, Israel has made unilateral moves in the past – disengaging from Gaza in 2005, for example – and will likely be forced to do so again as perpetual war is untenable on several levels.
As numerous commentators recently have suggested, total de-Hamas-ification of Gaza is probably unlikely. Perhaps the endpoint will be a situation in which Israel has achieved a position of unequivocal strength, with the likelihood of a repeat of Oct. 7 eliminated, and some as-yet-unimagined political structure in place in Gaza. While street activists and diplomats worldwide think they have all the answers to what Israel should do, not one group has stepped up to suggest they would serve as peacekeepers or otherwise oversee Gaza’s transition away from Hamas’s regime. There are, of course, larger geopolitical imperatives, including the maintenance and expansion of the Abraham Accords, which Saudi Arabia has said depend on a two-state solution. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, to the consternation of American and other officials, is insisting Palestinian statehood is off the table for now.
Another realistic reason why Western observers may not be calling on Hamas to give up is the understanding – intuitive, if not conscious – that Hamas will never surrender because it is determined to continue this fight regardless of cost and futility. Their stated goal is the eradication of Israel even if that takes generations. Hamas leaders have indicated that thousands upon thousands of dead Palestinians are a small price to pay for a centimetre’s advance toward that ultimate goal. The embedding of terror infrastructure in civilian areas, the use of human shields and child combatants are evidence that Hamas will fight to the last person.
In Jewish cyberspace and in Israel-minded media, there have been millions of words spilled in recent weeks about the necessity of victory, the justness of the war even in the face of the mounting casualties and much more. There also have been calls for a ceasefire as a way to get the beloved hostages back home with their families and their hurting nation.
Given what’s at stake, we hope and pray for what seems impossible, a Hamas surrender. We also hope and pray for the possible – that Israel will be victorious in achieving its security, that there will be a world in which both Israel and Palestine coexist in peace. And, more immediately, that the hostages will be returned.