Thursday, July 25, 2024
HomeNewsHostages are Hamas’s only leverage as Netanyahu digs in

Hostages are Hamas’s only leverage as Netanyahu digs in


US-LED negotiators are working in Cairo without Israel for a six-week ceasefire in Gaza to free the flow of food and other aid to its displaced population although this will inevitably also replenish Hamas and its ability to resist the IDF. Their deadline is the start of Ramadan on Sunday.

The Israelis refused to attend because Hamas would not provide a list of the living hostages it holds in Gaza. The omens for success would appear to be zero unless President Biden is prepared to take a tougher line with Israel than he has so far, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be persuaded to renounce his war aims which would hand Hamas a propaganda victory amidst the ruins of the Palestinian enclave.

The ceasefire the Americans seek would unavoidably break the momentum of the coming Israeli army drive against Rafa, Hamas’s last redoubt in southern Gaza, and risk letting its forces reinfiltrate the areas further north from which the IDF drove them earlier in the war. Washington hopes that an initial truce would segue into a longer ceasefire and even end the war altogether but the Israelis have little incentive to go along voluntarily.

In return for a ceasefire, Hamas is offering to release only 40 of the remaining 130 Israeli hostages it captured on October 7, keeping the rest for future bargaining and insisting on the complete withdrawal of the IDF from Gaza. 

Netanyahu publicly called the Hamas demands delusional. He has never deviated from the three objectives he set from the start: release of all the hostages, the destruction of Hamas, and ensuring that Gaza can never again be used as a springboard to attack Israel.

Netanyahu’s refusal to heed US and European criticism of Israel means that hostages provide Hamas with virtually their only leverage because their fate divides Israeli public opinion. Their families and their supporters are piling pressure on Netanyahu to prioritise the release of all the hostages over defeating Hamas. There has even been talk of the issue prompting fresh elections which could oust Netanyahu, a longstanding American ambition in terms of Washington’s overall plans for the region.

None of this counts in the absence of a clear demand from Biden for a ceasefire backed by a threat to cut off the supply of American weapons and ammunition on which Israeli is largely dependent to fight Hamas. Defying an official US ceasefire call would be a serious risk for Netanyahu and could embolden Hezbollah – a more dangerous foe than Hamas – on Israel’s northern border.

Give Biden credit for wile in his handling of the war despite the political danger to his re-election from his vocal anti-Israeli base in the Democratic party. The start of air drops of food to Gaza last week pending a ceasefire to allow road convoys is another way of eluding the constant demands that he issue a ceasefire call. 

Coming on the heels of his veto of a ceasefire at the UN security council, Biden seems to be pursuing a dual policy of giving Israel the rope it needs to continue the war while he condemns it for the disturbing civilian death toll in Gaza to appease his pro-Palestinian critics. But his ability to support Israel is not limitless and has tested his patience. In a moment of apparent exasperation, Biden told reporters that Israel’s response to the war with its thousands of dead and hundreds of thousands of homeless was ‘over the top’. He sent a senior White House official to Michigan to soothe the state’s angry Muslim-American voting bloc before the recent Democratic primary. All the while, he has done nothing to interfere with Netanyahu’s conduct of the war which has levelled swathes of Gaza.

Biden’s policy, together with the continued supply of US military aid, is a deal the thick-skinned Netanyahu can live with. Past presidents have always stepped in fast to halt Israel’s retaliation for Hamas attacks and its leaders have felt compelled to accede because of the Jewish state’s dependence on the US. The pattern has been: Hamas provokes a war, Israel hits back, Washington pressures Jerusalem for a ceasefire, Israel obeys – and Hamas survives to repeat the cycle. Not this time. In its pursuit of Hamas for the October 7 massacre, Israel has shown a relentlessness of purpose and disregard for Western opinion which is unprecedented in the long history of its conflict with the Palestinians and their allies.

It would not have been able to do this without US complicity. The reason is easy to find. The humanitarian argument that worked to restrain Israel in the past has been nullified by the inhumane treatment Hamas inflicted on its victims during those fateful hours last October. It was not just that some 1,200 unprotected Israelis were killed during the incursion from Gaza while the army floundered – a profound and permanent shock in itself to the Israeli psyche – it was the way the victims were slaughtered and women gang raped before being killed and mutilated in an orgy of sadistic and hate-driven glee all recorded on video by Hamas itself. After October 7, Israel’s collective heart turned to stone, destroying any prospect of the West’s favoured two-state solution for the foreseeable future. 

In an interview intended to leapfrog the Biden administration’s ceasefire diplomacy, Netanyahu told CBS television that the IDF was ready to fight during Ramadan. In a dig at Western hypocrisy, he said that if October 7 had happened in the United States, ‘you would have done ten times as much’.

If you appreciated this article, perhaps you might consider making a donation to The Conservative Woman. Unlike most other websites, we receive no independent funding. Our editors are unpaid and work entirely voluntarily as do the majority of our contributors but there are inevitable costs associated with running a website. We depend on our readers to help us, either with regular or one-off payments. You can donate here. Thank you.
If you have not already signed up to a daily email alert of new articles please do so. It is here and free! Thank you.

Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes is a retired Anglo-Scottish journalist now living in France who during a 40-year career worked in eastern Europe before and after communism.

Sign up for TCW Daily

Each morning we send The ConWom Daily with links to our latest news. This is a free service and we will never share your details.