‘Important but not enough’: What does Israel-Hamas deal mean for US policy?

Advocates pledge to continue to push for ceasefire as Biden welcomes captives deal that will see temporary pause to war.

Woman sits in destroyed building Gaza
A Palestinian woman sits by houses destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Rafah on November 20 [File: Hatem Ali/AP Photo]

Washington, DC – The agreement between Israel and Hamas to pause the fighting in Gaza and release dozens of captives highlights the power of diplomacy and creates an opening to end the violence, advocates in the United States say.

But they stress that the truce is not sufficient, with many pledging to continue pressuring the administration of US President Joe Biden to pursue a long-term ceasefire.

“This is an important break in the fighting. It’s important that these families are reunified,” said Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative director for Middle East policy at the advocacy group Friends Committee on National Legislation.

“But it’s not enough. We have to continue building momentum to reach a permanent ceasefire, a return of all the hostages, unfettered aid access and a solution for peace for Israelis and Palestinians.”

The deal will see Hamas release 50 women and children held in Gaza, and Israel free 150 Palestinian women and children from its prisons. The exchange will be accompanied by a four-day pause in the fighting and an increased delivery of humanitarian aid into the besieged Palestinian territory.

The agreement, which was approved by the Israeli government late on Tuesday, is expected to go into effect on Friday. It will mark the first stop in the fighting since the war broke out.

Biden welcomes deal

Israel has pledged to continue its military campaign after the pause. But El-Tayyab stressed that “more war” is not the answer, and that there is no military solution to the crisis.

“The question is: Will we fall back to where we were for the past six weeks, with indiscriminate bombing and civilians dying and the hostages being held?” he told Al Jazeera.

“Or are we going to take a step forward towards more negotiations, an extended truce, to get everybody home and finally resolve some of the underlying issues that are creating the cycles of violence, which include the systemic oppression of Palestinians?”

President Biden welcomed the deal and thanked Qatar and Egypt for helping to broker it. He also applauded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement on Wednesday.

“I appreciate the commitment that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have made in supporting an extended pause to ensure this deal can be fully carried out and to ensure the provision of additional humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering of innocent Palestinian families in Gaza,” Biden said. He did not comment on the future of the conflict.

The Biden administration has been calling for “humanitarian pauses” in the war while firmly rejecting demands for a ceasefire, at least until Israel achieves its stated goal of eliminating Hamas.

A truce or a pause is a temporary halt of fighting for an agreed-upon period of time — in this case, four days. A ceasefire is an indefinite end to hostilities that often comes with a negotiated agreement between the warring parties.

Nancy Okail, president of the Center for International Policy, a US-based think tank, called the truce a “step in the right direction”.

She said the pause could be used to deliver aid to Palestinians in Gaza, push for a lasting ceasefire and ensure the safety of humanitarian workers, medics and journalists.

“This would be important not just for the immediate objective of helping secure the release of the hostages but also to save lives and stop the bloodshed,” Okail told Al Jazeera.

‘Allow the truth to come out’

More than 14,500 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its offensive in response to the October 7 Hamas attack that killed 1,200 Israelis.

Hamas also took more than 200 people captive from Israel. Thousands of Palestinians are in Israeli jails, including hundreds of children, many of whom are held in so-called administrative detention without formal charges.

The scale of the violence in Gaza has prompted many scholars and United Nations experts to warn of the risk of genocide.

The Israeli army has forcibly displaced most of the population in the north of the territory — more than one million residents — raising concerns about the possible ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, especially if they are not allowed to return to their homes.

Okail said the halt in violence should extend to the West Bank, where more than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and settlers since October 7.

If the fighting resumes, Okail also explained that she would like to see the US take a firm stance against any war crimes, including the use of collective punishment, civilian hostages and indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas.

“The Biden administration should also draw a clear red line around the use of US-supplied arms and make clear that there will be consequences if those weapons are not used in accordance with international law,” Okail added.

The White House and Pentagon have repeatedly said that they would not draw any “red lines” to restrict the Israeli operation in Gaza and how American arms are used.

Israel receives $3.8bn in US aid annually. Biden is seeking more than $14bn in additional assistance for Israel this year.

Leading rights groups like Amnesty International, however, have accused Israel of imposing apartheid on Palestinians. But the appeals for Biden to rein in Israeli abuses appear to be going unheard.

Politico reported late on Tuesday that the Biden administration is concerned that the pause “would allow journalists broader access to Gaza and the opportunity to further illuminate the devastation there and turn public opinion on Israel”.

Against that backdrop, El-Tayyab called for independent observers to assess the carnage of Gaza.

“We need to allow the truth to come out. If the truth leads the public to say: This is a war we don’t want to be a part of, then we have to let the chips fall where they may,” he told Al Jazeera.

‘No backbone whatsoever’

Rights advocates have also expressed fear that renewed bombing after the truce might target southern Gaza, which has become more densely populated since the start of the war, as families flee bombings and other attacks.

But Biden’s support for Israel is not expected to waver after the pause.

​​Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan, said Biden’s green light for the war is one of the main reasons the Israeli campaign “has gone on for this unspeakably long period”.

“My reading of the Netanyahu government is that they’re incorrigible, that nothing would stand in their way if they want to start back up the destruction,” Cole told Al Jazeera.

“And then President Biden has shown himself to have no backbone whatsoever when trying to stand up to Netanyahu.”

Cole noted that Netanyahu has been under pressure from the captives’ families to accept the deal, despite opposition from his far-right political allies. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, for instance, called the agreement “immoral”.

Despite the push in some right-wing circles for the relentless bombing to continue, Israel does not appear close to destroying Hamas. The Palestinian group continues to fight Israeli troops in northern Gaza, killing dozens of soldiers since the ground invasion began.

Hamas’s top political and military leadership remains intact as well.

It’s not clear how and if Israel can eliminate Hamas militarily and what would come after the group if it were destroyed. Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007.

That’s why many progressive activists in the US are urging a political solution to end the violence — one that goes beyond the current deal.

Usamah Andrabi, communications director at Justice Democrats, a progressive group, called for the US to end its unconditional support for the Israeli government that “continues to openly tell us its plans to annihilate and displace the Palestinian people”.

Andrabi said the pause is a temporary but necessary reprieve from the “incessant bombing and destruction by the Israeli government”, which will allow for the release of captives.

“But we cannot let up on our demands for a permanent ceasefire,” Andrabi told Al Jazeera.

Sandra Tamari, the executive director of Adalah Justice Project, an advocacy group, echoed Andrabi’s comments. She said the halt is simply a “pause of genocide”.

“How can we settle for a pause to that kind of violence? We have to continue to push the US government to call for a complete ceasefire,” Tamari told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera