Why won't Israel's critics support a six-week humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza?


The demands for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza are everywhere. At the Oscars, celebrities such as Billie Eilish and Ramy Youssef wore red “Artists4Ceasefire” pins, which Youssef said meant an “immediate permanent ceasefire.”

During Biden’s State of the Union address, progressive Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) held up signs calling for a “Lasting Ceasefire.” Resolutions in the United Nations, countries around the worldand international refugee non-governmental organizations all demand a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

But when it comes to a proposal to give immediate relief to Gazans, these voices have been conspicuously silent. The proposal is a six-week humanitarian ceasefire, mediated by Qatar, the U.S. and Egypt, which Israel has accepted. The relief it would bring desperate Gazans — a respite from the war and a surge of food, water and medical supplies unhampered by intense fighting — has been rejected by Hamas in favor of continuing the war and even expanding it. Somehow, nobody is wearing Artists4SixWeekPause pins to protest this callous decision that will surely cause many civilian deaths in coming months.

A principal obstacle is Yahia Sinwar, the Hamas military leader in Gaza, who demands that Israel agree to a permanent ceasefire and commit to withdrawing from Gaza. He is reportedly pleased with how the war is going, but his strategy, if not his personal survival, depends on leveraging Gazan civilian casualties to generate international pressure on Israel to withdraw permanently. His bet is that the Ramadan holiday will ignite an uprising on the West Bank, leading to more Palestinian deaths, and more international pressure on Israel, including more “permanent ceasefire” pins and signs. 

Apocalyptic thinking is what to expect from a terrorist leader who has been hiding for months underground, facing military pressure and an Israeli death sentence. Qatar apparently is more upset by Sinwar’s obstinance than the permanent ceasefire camp because it “threatened to expel Hamas officials” from their base in Doha if they failed to persuade Sinwar and the other Gaza-based leaders to accept the six-week humanitarian pause.

This is a defining moment for the permanent ceasefire supporters. Their exclusive but futile focus on pressuring Israel to permanently stop its offensive suggests they would rather tilt at windmills than provide real, albeit temporary, relief to Gazans. Sinwar and his Hamas colleagues planned the Oct. 7 attack to be as bestial as possible, down to the body cameras that filmed children watching the murder of their parents. It left Israel a traumatized and enraged nation.

Whatever Israelis think of Netanyahu — indeed, despite what some polls show to be a record low public opinion of him — they are united around the goal of eliminating Hamas, which has promised “a second, a third, and a fourth” attack on Israel. Sinwar and his colleagues wanted an existential, “it’s us or you” war with Israel, and they have gotten one. 

A six-week humanitarian cease fire would involve the release of perhaps forty or fifty Israeli hostages, and several times that number of Palestinians in Israeli jails. It could create a new diplomatic dynamic, conceivably with an endgame that includes the exile of the Hamas leaders in Gaza and an end to the war. Pressuring Hamas, which is sensitive to international opinion, to accept the six week ceasefire, would not require the permanent ceasefire camp to refrain from seeking an end to the war if it resumes. 

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The permanent ceasefire camp has left the impression that Israel is the only actor in Gaza with agency, and that Hamas is a faceless, besieged, underground bystander. It has been a convenient way to blame Israel exclusively for Gazan suffering, but now that game is up.

By not pressuring Hamas to accept the six week ceasefire, the permanent ceasefire camp, intentionally or not, has aligned itself with the goals of Hamas and against the immediate needs of the Gazan people. 

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor in the Carter and Reagan administrations and a member of the ABSCAM prosecution team, which convicted a U.S. senator and six representatives of bribery. He is the author of “Into Siberia: George Kennan’s Epic Journey Through the Brutal, Frozen Heart of Russia.”

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