Why a humanitarian ceasefire will bolster Hamas
By Khaled Abu Toameh
A so-called "humanitarian ceasefire" would only serve to bolster Hamas. A genuine ceasefire means both sides stop fighting. A "humanitarian" ceasefire means that only Israel will stop fighting. There is no way of separating Hamas from the Palestinian population since Hamas is an army without fixed bases that operates in residential areas and uses civilian infrastructure such as mosques and schools. A humanitarian "pause" would benefit Hamas and allow them to regroup. How can you declare war on a terrorist organization and then grant it a humanitarian pause?
There is also no guarantee that a humanitarian pause will translate into a complete ceasefire. Hamas has already tried smuggling terrorists out through the Rafah crossing to Egypt. There's also no guarantee that fuel sent into Gaza won't be used to run equipment to circulate air in the tunnels.
A few years ago, UNRWA announced they found Hamas tunnels under schools in Gaza, a human rights abuse by Hamas. Yet human rights organizations have not reported these offenses since they are inherently biased and hostile to Israel. Lynn Hastings, the UN's Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, for example, has not condemned Hamas but complains of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which is fundamentally caused by Hamas.
Arab states express "brotherhood and solidarity" rhetorically while rejecting Palestinian refugees in reality, rationalizing their decision by saying that Gazans should hold their ground no matter what the consequences. The international community has not condemned these Arab states' refusals.
If Hamas wanted to, it could pause and allow civilians to depart, then confront Israelis, instead of putting civilians in harm's way. When civilians tried to use the humanitarian corridor created by the IDF, Hamas opened fire on them. The dead were caught on video by a motorbike rider, where it is clear the civilians were used as human shields.
Leaders Reject Protecting Civilians
Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzook unabashedly expressed that the underground Gaza tunnels are for "the resistance," and since 75 percent of Gaza's population are considered refugees, they are the international community's responsibility, not Hamas'. Some Hamas leaders, such as Yahya Sinwar, stay in "luxury tunnels" underground, while others spend their days in Qatar, Lebanon, and Turkey with their families while also traveling around the Middle East.
There are almost no foreign journalists in Gaza. Reports given by Palestinian journalists are taken directly from unreliable official Hamas media outlets. There is no way to verify the death tolls and injury reports issued by Hamas, which has complete control of its media, security forces, and public information. Suspiciously, Hamas never reports the number of its fighters lost – only figures of women, children, and journalists killed and injured. Likewise, the number of hostages held by Hamas is unclear, since Palestinian Islamic Jihad and even civilians may be holding hostages.
Senior Hamas officials have said they would not release Israeli hostages unless Israel released all Palestinian security prisoners – about 6,000. Any prisoner exchange with Hamas would boost their popularity and give them more public credibility. A dilemma exists in emboldening and empowering Hamas and its leader, Sinwar, making them heroes who secured the release of security prisoners. Can the hostages be released without the prisoners being released?
The good news is that not all Palestinians in Gaza support Hamas, though many do. Many are afraid to speak out but express dissent in private. This gives the impression that every Palestinian supports them. Even in the West Bank, Palestinians are saying that Hamas brought a disaster and that its behavior was un-Islamic and worthy of condemnation. Palestinians who condemn Hamas need to be empowered and engaged to debunk the myth that "everyone supports Hamas."
Even PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has denounced Hamas in private meetings but not in public since he fears the reaction. Abbas is eating the bitter fruit of his own radicalization of his West Bank populace. As a result, Abbas empowered Hamas and pushed West Bank residents into their hands.
In 1995, Abbas publicly proclaimed he would not allow "Jews to defile our holy sites with their feet," referring to the Temple Mount compound, inciting and indoctrinating his own population. Similarly, and notably, "Al Aqsa Flood" is the name of the Hamas October 7 operation. Abbas' antisemitic rhetoric, charging Israel with apartheid, and other extremist discourse have made Hamas seem heroic. The West assumes that the PA are the "good guys" while Hamas are the "bad guys," but when examined, their rhetoric is nearly identical, as witnessed in their broadcast media.
The Palestinians need a courageous leader to provide new direction to alleviate their plight. Palestinians have been slaughtered in Lebanon and killed by the Assad regime in Yarmouk, Syria. Kuwait deported hundreds of thousands of Palestinians after Kuwait was liberated. Palestinians are also subjected to apartheid-like discrimination in schooling, employment, and real estate purchases in the Arab world. The only state that has afforded citizenship to Palestinians is Jordan. Seeing the Palestinian cause as holding the Arab world hostage, Arabs view them as ungrateful and unwilling to make positive, decisive moves to advance their state ambitions in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli Arabs, though, are often satisfied with their status in Israel, but most, besides paying lip service, are not willing to help provide leadership to the West Bank or Gaza. MK Mansour Abbas, for example, would be considered too moderate. PLO advisor MK Ahmad Tibi would have to give up his Israeli citizenship, which is unlikely. Many who call themselves Palestinian citizens of Israel – when it comes to assuming responsibility and Palestinian leadership – refuse.
None of the current leaders in the West Bank – and certainly not Gaza – say anything new. Fatah's Majed Faraj was targeted by Hamas in 2012 for being critical of Hamas killing Palestinians. Abbas himself put economic sanctions on Gaza in 2018, before the "Great March of Return," as retribution for Hamas' refusal to come to a reconciliation meeting. Abbas cut Gaza's electricity from 12 to four hours per day and suspended welfare payments to 70,000 needy Palestinians as a "collective punishment" – a term he now employs against Israel regarding Gaza.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award winning Arab and Palestinian Affairs journalist with the Jerusalem Post. He is Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.