Israel-Hamas war: Hostage release doesn't mean the end is near
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here and a Quick Take to kick off your week. And yes, we are back to the Israel-Gaza war and it is at least a little bit of good news with some hostages finally being released over a month and a half from when they were originally taken. That has gotten us some Palestinian prisoners released, some humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza and a ceasefire for a few days. And indeed, looks like it will now plausibly be extended for another day or two as more hostages are being let go.
Got to give Qatar a lot of credit here for playing a role in negotiating between Israel and Hamas. Not an easy thing to do. Qatar, an ally of the United States, the biggest military base on the ground, but also a government that has allowed the political leadership of Hamas to live inside their territory in peace and security as they have Taliban leadership for years. And that proves to be useful for both the Americans and the Israelis, more on that later. But is this potentially the beginning of the end of the war? And on that front, I think we have to say absolutely not for a few reasons.
First of all, because there are still well over 100 hostages and they're going to be much harder to get released because here you're not talking about women and children. You're talking about men of fighting age, and in some cases you're talking about soldiers. And Hamas is going to demand a lot more in return. And the Israelis are going to be very reluctant to provide it. So first, I don't expect that's going to happen. And as long as there are hostages on the ground, there's still going to be an awful lot of fighting from the Israeli side.
Secondly, we still have a Hamas leadership, a military leadership active in the north of Gaza. Their ability to continue to fire rockets and their ability to continue to have command and control infrastructure, that's not been destroyed. And the Israeli military saying that it's probably another two months of fighting that they need in the war. By the way, this is about a month after they told the Americans privately that there would be 4 to 6 weeks required.
Now, part of that is, hey, just say the absolute minimum so you get support from the US. You can always extend it later. It's a tactic, but also because it's proving to be more challenging on the ground than the Israeli Defense Forces had anticipated. Not to mention the fact they haven't started fighting in the south, where they told all the Palestinian civilians to evacuate to, but there are also Hamas militants operating in the south. And so Israel intends to try to take them out as well. In other words, we're still talking about weeks, maybe months of active fighting.
The other thing I will say, though, is that the level of pressure on Israel internationally to stop that fighting is going to grow a lot. You've seen the Chinese, the Gulf states, the Egyptians, the Jordanians and Europeans, many Europeans, though not all, and increasingly many inside the United States as well, now actively calling for a ceasefire. And Biden even saying, President Biden, something he had been saying privately, but is now saying publicly that he might be willing to condition further military and financial support to Israel on the basis of Israeli behavior on the ground in the war. And he's very concerned, certainly as everyone is, about the level of civilian casualties that we've all seen in Gaza. Now, does that mean that Israel is no longer America's top ally? No. Under no circumstances can I see that. And Biden would not move in that direction, not personally and not politically. But I could see, for example, some high tech offensive weaponry being held back by the Americans for example, becoming more controversial.
And I also see that happening from Democrats in the House and in the Senate. Again, this is no longer a matter of just a small number of hard-line progressives on the squad in the House. This is much broader. I think we are at the point where Israel has probably lost some degree of support from the United States permanently. The demographics in the United States and how they feel about Israel and what that means politically for the country longer term has shifted. And certainly you can now see things in mainstream media that never would have been printed sort of even three months ago, never mind ten years ago, about their feeling of how Israel does and doesn't run a democracy, nature of the occupation in the West Bank, nature of detentions of those that are accused of, but not yet convicted of crimes, and on and on and on. That level of attention, which only grows, that level of scrutiny that only grows, the longer this war goes on. And of course, the longer we see massive civilian casualties on the ground, that's going to be more challenging for Israel.
There also remains what is the plausible long-term impact of all of this. And for now, it just looks like misery and it's very hard to imagine how the Palestinians could ever come to peace in the region until they have an option that looks attractive. And right now, if you're a Palestinian in Gaza, the option is run away and find someplace to not get blown up. And they're not going to leave Gaza and they're not allowed to leave Gaza, even if they did want to leave Gaza and they don't want to. And then you have Palestinians in the West Bank who are living on smaller and smaller pieces of territory and their lives have become more and more challenging. So, I mean, clearly, at some point, the Israeli government, with a lot of international support and pressure, are going to need to provide meaningful opportunities for the Palestinian people.
And we are not close to that. We are still talking about more war, not less, and less opportunities for building peace, not more. I hope that that will turn in the coming weeks and months. Certainly the international pressure is turning, but not yet the situation on the ground. From that perspective, we're still going to be talking about this quite a bit.
That's it for me. I'll talk to you all real soon.
- Israel-Hamas war: "Just bring them back," says brother of 9-year-old Israeli hostage ›
- Why Israel’s war aims may “break Israeli society”: a conversation with Israeli hostage negotiator Gershon Baskin ›
- Third hostage and prisoner exchange goes ahead, but will there be ... ›
- Dealing with Hamas: What a former hostage negotiator learned ›
- The debate over a “cease-fire” for Gaza ›