Since the Israel-Gaza war began seven weeks ago, the four-day truce between the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas has provided the most promise so far, with the staggered release of hostages taken from Israel on October 7 in exchange for 150 Palestinian detainees, some of whom are minors and have spent years incarcerated in Israeli prisons on seemingly arbitrary charges and others without any charge.
Since Friday, when the truce began, 41 of nearly 240 hostages have been released. Hamas still holds the majority captive. In exchange for the hostage release, 78 Palestinian detainees have been freed from Israeli prisons. By the end of the truce on Monday, and under the terms of the agreement, 50 Israeli hostages should be freed and 150 Palestinians released from Israeli jails.
Despite the delay in the prisoner exchange and the fragile nature of the truce, the relief to families and civilians on both sides lends hope, even as several dozens more families in Gaza and Israel remain anxious and waiting for an end to this ordeal.
Ideally, a short truce would lay the groundwork for a longer period of calm and the urgently required talks between the representatives of Palestine and Israel to revive the Middle East peace process. But the Israeli government's statement that its military offensive in Gaza will resume after this first pause in fighting lapses puts a cap on any optimism or productive outcomes.
Israel's military command has clearly stated that the offensive will resume. Adm Daniel Hagari said the war “would not stop until Hamas has been dismantled”, after the army’s chief of staff, Lt Gen Herzi Halevi, told Israeli soldiers that “at the end of the operational pause, we will return promptly to our operations and offensive in Gaza”.
And yet, the dire reality for civilians in Gaza is unchanged. They need, at the very least, longer pauses in fighting and the continued delivery of aid, including of fuel, as has been seen in the past few days. They also need an end to this tragic chapter that has claimed the lives of more than 14,000 Palestinians, including 6,000 children. That number does not need to rise further. But only when the fighting stops for a meaningful length of time can there be a return to negotiations, with the ultimate aim of reaching a mutually agreed two-state solution that remains vital to ending the decades-long conflict.
The majority of members of the international community is beginning to recognise the untenability of Israel's continued occupation and control of the Palestinian territories. As European leaders convene in Barcelona today to discuss the crisis with their Arab and Mediterranean counterparts, the meeting is yet another reminder for the rest of the world to exert sustained pressure on the stakeholders in the conflict to return to dialogue. Discussions around the future of Palestine are inevitably going to be fraught with challenges but they are necessary, nonetheless.
The absence of the US and Israel in the Barcelona discussions does little to enable the cause of peace, but it is still the mandate of global leaders to channel diplomatic efforts towards ending this war, and keeping international attention on the crisis. Even as ultimately the participation of Israel and the US in negotiations for a two-state solution is essential, high-level diplomatic talks have to be a starting point.
This is particularly urgent as villages, refugee camps and settlements in the other Occupied Territories, notably in West Bank, continue to be riven with violence, bloodshed and lawlessness, due to the excesses of the Israeli armed forces and illegal settlers attempting to drive Palestinians out of their land.
The flicker of hope that has been kindled with the first group of hostages and prisoners returning home cannot be extinguished without a strong bid and a workable plan for peace.
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