Could the Israel-Hamas truce in Gaza be extended?

Could the Israel-Hamas truce in Gaza be extended?
With the Gaza truce deal based on hostage/prisoner exchanges running smoothly so far, The New Arab looks at whether or not it could be extended.
4 min read
27 November, 2023
Under the terms of the truce, 150 Palestinian prisoners and 50 Israeli hostages are set to be released [Getty]

After weeks of intense Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, a four-day ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel came into effect on Friday. As of Sunday afternoon, a total of 78 Palestinian prisoners and 26 Israelis had been released by the respective parties.

But with the humanitarian situation in Gaza still so desperate, the key question now is: could the deal be extended?

The New Arab looks at the different factors at play that could determine whether or not the truce is lengthened.

Does Israel want an extension?

Israel has said it will extend the truce by one day for every 10 hostages released by Hamas.

However, much to the chagrin of the families of hostages, Israel has also said that its main priority continue to be to wage war against Hamas "until victory".

Netanyahu’s coalition government is held together by far-right cabinet ministers, such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, who all opposed the ceasefire deal and were keen on Israel to continue to assault Gaza.

Speaking at a press conference on the day the truce was announced, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "eliminating Hamas" and "making sure that post-Hamas there will be no threat to Israel" remain the major aims of Tel Aviv as it wages war on Gaza.

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In the short-term, it would make sense for Israel to try to prolong the ceasefire agreement past the current four-day limit, as bringing as many hostages home as possible would be a shot in the arm for Netanyahu’s hugely unpopular government.

But there are also other factors, such as the deleterious effect the war is having on Israel’s economy and the fact that global opinion is overwhelmingly against their brutal tactics in Gaza.

There are also strong domestic factors at play for Netanyahu.

If he was seen to have left a number of hostages behind when freeing them was a possibility, the backlash could lead to an end to his far-right coalition government.

Does Hamas want an extension?

Hamas appear to be much more flexible on the question than Israel. As well as securing the release of women and children locked up in Israeli jails, Hamas can use the extension to ensure that much needed aid reaches Gaza's population, while fuel can get what remains of Gaza’s decimated infrastructure moving again.

Hamas have shown themselves as amenable to freeing every Israeli hostage in exchange for Israel releasing every Palestinian prisoner – an offer that Ghazi Hamad, a leading member of Hamas’ political bureau, made on Sunday in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Though it is an unrealistic demand, comments like this from Hamas may send signals to Israel about not just limited extensions of the ceasefire but a long-term ceasefire.

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Hamas could be essentially advertising the fact that they would be open to negotiating the return of all the hostages, likely for a price smaller than the release of every Palestinian jailed by Israel.

Hamas are aware that hostages are their only leverage when it comes to negotiating ceasefires or humanitarian pauses with Israel. They will not want to give up this leverage lightly, knowing that if they did, Gaza could be hit even harder.

Hamas' main options, it seems, are to hope that they can secure a long-term ceasefire in return for the release of all hostages, or to push the existing ceasefire to its limit so that as much aid can enter Gaza as possible.

What about global and regional actors?

The US, Israel’s biggest ally, maintains a contradictory line on this. Joe Biden said on Saturday that the "chances are real" for the current four-day ceasefire to be extended. He also suggested that the ceasefire could become long-term, saying that "the rest of the Arab world and the region is also putting pressure on all sides to slow this down, to bring this to an end as quickly as we can".

However, Biden also said that Israel’s aim of "eliminating Hamas" is "legitimate", which doesn't necessarily undermine an extension of the current truce, but it would rule out a significant one.

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Egypt said on the same day that it had received "positive signals from all parties" on an extension of the ceasefire "for one or two days".

Additionally, a delegation from Qatar landed in Israel on Saturday to discuss the current Doha-mediated agreement, as well as potential future extensions or separate deals.