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Why calls for a ceasefire in Gaza will be ignored unless they take Israel’s security concerns into account and make concrete demands of Hamas.
Since the start of Israel’s ongoing military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, high international officials, analysts, and pundits alike have repeatedly called for an effectively unilateral Israeli ceasefire. At best, figures like United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres couple their ceasefire appeals with a demand for the unconditional release of Israelis and foreigners held hostage by Hamas. While many of these calls are well-intentioned and motivated by real concern for ordinary people in Gaza, they typically make few if any demands on Hamas—the terrorist group whose heinous October 7 massacre precipitated this war—and give Israel no real reason to halt its military operations, even temporarily. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected these ceasefire appeals outright in a recent press conference.
In other words, ceasefire calls that neither acknowledge nor constructively address Israeli concerns will go nowhere. Fighting in Gaza will continue, along with the human suffering many ceasefire advocates say they want to end.
For any ceasefire call to be taken seriously—much less actually adopted—it needs to make stringent demands on Hamas that would satisfy Israel’s very real and legitimate post-October 7 security concerns. These demands ought to include:
The unconditional release of all hostages and unimpeded departure of all foreign nationals who wish to leave Gaza. This condition should really go without saying; even Secretary-General Guterres has made it. Hamas insists it will only swap its hostages in exchange for the release of all Palestinians held in Israeli jails, while U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says the terrorist group has prevented the departure of Americans and other foreign nationals while making its own additional demands.
An explicit halt to all rocket fire from Gaza. Typically, demands for a ceasefire say little about the constant rocket fire from Gaza that targets Israeli cities—and often falls short, landing in Gaza itself. An explicit demand that Hamas and other militant groups cease any and all rocket fire should be made in any real ceasefire appeal.
These two conditions represent the bare minimum that should be seen in any credible ceasefire call. But on their own, they remain unlikely to convince Israel to agree to more than a temporary cessation of hostilities. Other possible ceasefire conditions that would more directly address Israeli concerns include:
Surrender Hamas leaders and others involved in the October 7 attack to stand trial in Israel. Any ceasefire that does not include at least some measure of justice for the brutal atrocities of October 7 will likely not hold. The Israeli military has already killed a number of Hamas leaders and commanders, and surrendering the planners and remaining perpetrators to face justice in an Israeli court would accomplish the same ends.
Palestinian Authority re-assumes control over Gaza. For all its extremely severe faults—most notably extensive corruption and a superannuated political class unwilling to give up power—the Palestinian Authority remains the only political entity available to take control of Gaza; neither Israel nor many Arab states want the job. While the PA probably can’t do the job either, at least not on its own, it’s all anyone’s got at this point.
An international coalition to destroy the Hamas-built tunnel infrastructure and rocket arsenal. A coalition of countries akin to the Multinational Force and Observers that oversees the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in the Sinai Peninsula could be assembled to dismantle the tunnel infrastructure built by Hamas to attack Israel and oversee the destruction of Gaza’s rockets. Unlike the MFO, this coalition would disband once its core task was complete.
If these proposals sound like fantasy, that’s in part the point: it’s extremely improbable that Hamas would agree to any of these demands as part of a ceasefire arrangement, nor would Israel agree to any ceasefire deal that essentially rewards Hamas for the October 7 attacks. Current ceasefire appeals effectively tell Israel that it must simply do nothing in the face of an atrocity the scale of October 7 and accept the appalling mass murder of at least 1,400 of its citizens. That’s something no responsible government could or would agree to, and it’s not surprising that Israel rejects it.
Ultimately, there’s no real space for a ceasefire to take hold. Israel, understandably, will not entertain ceasefire proposals that fail to take its own post-October 7 security concerns seriously. Hamas will almost certainly not agree to any demands that require it to relinquish power in Gaza or disarm itself; the terrorist group does not view itself as in any way responsible for the well-being and safety of those ordinary Palestinians under its effective political control. Indeed, many Hamas leaders have expressed a willingness to sacrifice as many Palestinians as necessary to achieve their abhorrent goals. Worse, ceasefire appeals that make no real demands on Hamas only encourage it to hold out and continue fighting—the exact opposite of what many ceasefire proponents say they want.
Ceasefire advocates like Secretary-General Guterres would stand a greater chance of success if they acknowledged Israel’s security concerns and made tangible demands on Hamas that go beyond the unconditional release of hostages. Similarly, Arab governments could be more constructive in their public and private diplomacy; they have an opportunity to offer something more constructive than demands for a unilateral Israeli ceasefire, but they have not yet chosen to seize it. For whatever reason, these governments do not feel they can make the sort of demands on Hamas or engage in the sort of creative diplomacy that this course of action would require—at least not yet.
Israel will not relent until it achieves its central objective of eliminating Hamas as a threat, but it still remains possible—though extremely improbable—that this objective can be achieved through means other than pure military force. In their eagerness to condemn Israel’s military actions and alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza, ceasefire advocates have unfortunately not presented a credible alternative that either acknowledges or addresses Israel’s entirely legitimate post-October 7 security concerns.
Admittedly, the alternative diplomatic approach sketched out here is a shot in the dark—and a long one at that. But it’s still worth taking.