GAZA WARThe Path to Peace in Gaza Lies in Defeating Hamas

By Justin Bassi

Published 24 November 2023

Israel cannot continue living with a Hamas-controlled Gaza. The untenability of having Hamas on Israel’s border has long been clear. However, to dismantle and disarm the group was always going to involve grievous civilian bloodshed and the inflaming of anti-Israeli opinion—a prohibitive proposition for Israel prior to 7 October. Yet now Israel finds itself facing this task anyway, which is a reminder to the world that tolerating the intolerable—even grudgingly, because the alternatives are too difficult—is never sustainable in the long term. This was demonstrated on 7 October.

The prospect of an exchange of hostages taken by Hamas and prisoners held by Israel, to be accompanied by a pause in fighting, is of course welcome news. It’s a constructive moment in the tragic seven weeks that began on 7 October.

The question is what happens once the exchange takes place. For all the temporary relief, the so-called truce cannot be permanent given that Hamas’s control of Gaza is the foremost obstacle to long-term peace. The negotiation has come about because Israel’s response to the October terror attacks and hostage-taking has put Hamas under immense pressure. Indeed, this is why Hamas took the hostages—anticipating an unyielding Israeli military operation, the terror group knew it needed leverage to extract concessions from Israel such as today’s hiatus in fighting and create domestic challenges for the Israeli government.

It is also why Hamas won’t return all the hostages (releasing about 50 but keeping 180). It is looking to hold on to its bargaining chips in the hope that Israel will be persuaded by a global community tired of the horrors of war to extend the pause indefinitely. Indeed, once Israel resumes its operations, Hamas will no doubt claim that it’s the Israelis who are restarting the conflict without justification. In pushing this strategic messaging, it will draw on the Iran-backed web of proxies to exploit the genuine global sympathy for Gazan civilians while also stoking the flammable fringes of the debate occupied by less well-meaning participants such as antisemites.

The discussion of a ceasefire inevitably appeals to our urge to find a modicum of optimism amid the carnage, but it doesn’t change the reality that Israel faces: Hamas does not want peace; it wants the extirpation of the Jewish state. The group’s long-term strategy is a fight to the death—backed by regional benefactors and sympathizers—to bring about the demise of the Jewish state.

A truce that leaves Hamas in control of Gaza will not be a permanent solution but merely a temporary pause in which Gazans remain controlled by a terrorist group that will abuse civilian infrastructure and resources to rebuild, rearm and return to its stated objective of destroying Israel.

Most other aspects of this immensely complex political problem involve difficult, but negotiable, trade-offs in which the parties could make compromises. That goes for territorial borders, the status of refugees and even the presence or otherwise of Israeli settlements.