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As the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza escalates — with relentless Israeli airstrikes claiming the lives of more than 8,800 people there, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry — so too have calls for a ceasefire, both in the U.S. and abroad.
The calls for a ceasefire
Bombing “is not going to bring the hostages back safely,” Rep. Delia Ramirez, a Democrat from Illinois and one of 12 House progressives who recently signed a “Ceasefire Now” resolution, explained earlier this week. “The only way we are going to get to long-lasting peace is a ceasefire — is deescalating and using diplomacy.”
Global protests have echoed that message, as have humanitarian groups such as Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders. A nonbinding resolution demanding an immediate and “sustained humanitarian truce” in Gaza overwhelmingly passed the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.
The arguments against a ceasefire
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unequivocally rejected calls for a ceasefire as his forces push deeper into Gaza as part of an expanded ground operation to eliminate Hamas after the militant group’s brutal Oct. 7 attack on Israel that left more than 1,400 people dead.
Hamas also seized hundreds of hostages in the assault and has so far refused to release the vast majority of them.
“Just as the United States would not agree to a ceasefire after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or after the terrorist attack of 9/11, Israel will not agree to a cessation of hostilities with Hamas after the horrific attacks of Oct. 7,” Netanyahu said Monday. “Calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism, to surrender to barbarism. ... Israel will stand against the forces of barbarism until victory.”
Why there’s debate
Amid an Israeli siege, fuel, food, water, electricity and medical supplies continue to dwindle in Gaza, dramatically worsening conditions in an impoverished enclave that human rights organizations have long described as an “open-air prison.”
Israeli airstrikes continue as well, hitting apartment buildings in Gaza’s largest refugee camp Wednesday for the second day in a row, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run government. The Israel Defense Forces said its strikes killed a top Hamas commander there Tuesday.
Proponents of a ceasefire argue that a formal commitment to end the fighting — with an eye toward a permanent political resolution — is the only way to adequately minimize civilian suffering and escape the region’s endless cycle of violence.
Ceasefire opponents, however, say that cycle will continue as long as Hamas, which strategically embeds itself in civilian areas and aspires to eradicate Israel and its Jewish population altogether, remains in control of Gaza — and that the only way to stop the bloodshed is by eliminating Hamas’s leaders and military capabilities.
Seeking to strike some sort of balance, the Biden administration — which has repeatedly emphasized Israel’s right to defend itself — has said that it opposes a full ceasefire but is now prepared to back “temporary localized humanitarian pauses to allow aid to get to specific populations and maybe even to help with the evacuation of people that want to get out,” as National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby put it Monday.
Given the U.S. and Israeli positions, a traditional ceasefire seems unlikely anytime soon. But as protests continue and civilian casualties mount, political pressure will build for some sort of restraint.
“Food, water, medicine [and] other essential humanitarian assistance resilience must be able to flow into Gaza,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. “Civilians must be able to stay out of harm’s way, a task that’s made even more difficult as Hamas uses civilians as human shields, and humanitarian pauses must be considered.”
The answer to violence is not more violence
“Civilians — wherever they are — must be protected equally. Gaza’s civilians did not choose this war. Atrocities should not be followed by more atrocities. The response to war crimes is not more war crimes.” — Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees, the Guardian
As long as Hamas remains in power, the violence will continue
“I don’t see how the cycle of hatred, killing, and suffering ends while there is a fundamentalist terrorist organization explicitly dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews — read its 1988 founding charter; the message is not subtle — equipped with legions of fighters ready to kill and die to achieve its goals, an arsenal of missiles, and a powerful state sponsor, Iran, that enables its violence and shares its explicitly genocidal agenda.” — Ned Lazarus, international affairs professor at George Washington University, the Atlantic
The Israeli people will not accept a ceasefire at this point
“It seems like the big demand from a lot of people who are critics of Israel is just, ‘You should have a cease-fire. They should stop doing what they’re currently doing.’ [But] Israelis of all stripes have unified around a need to do something ... really, really dramatic about the Hamas threat. … An expert on Israeli politics told me this point blank: ‘No ceasefire and no return to the status quo. Something needs to change.’” — Zack Beauchamp of Vox, in conversation with Ezra Klein, New York Times
A ceasefire ‘would mean Hamas would win’ — and nothing would change
“At present, [Hamas’s] military infrastructure still exists, its leadership remains largely intact, and its political control of Gaza is unchallenged. As Hamas did after conflicts with Israel in 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2021, the group will almost certainly rearm and restore. It will be able to add to its system of tunnels running under the enclave. The strip will remain impoverished, and the next round of war will be inevitable, holding both Gazan civilians and much of the rest of the Middle East hostage to Hamas’s aims.” — Dennis Ross, former U.S. envoy to the Middle East, New York Times
Both sides should ‘pause’ — to free hostages, protect civilians and rethink their approaches to the war
“Israel should keep the door open for a humanitarian cease-fire and prisoner exchange that will also allow Israel to pause and reflect on exactly where it is going with its rushed Gaza military operation — and the price it could pay over the long haul. ... A pause could also allow the people of Gaza to take stock of what Hamas’s attack on Israel — and Israel’s totally predictable response — has done to their lives, families, homes and businesses. ... Hamas has gotten way too much understanding and not enough hard questions.” — Thomas Friedman, New York Times
A ‘humanitarian pause’ will only facilitate more fighting, not peace
“Generally, cease-fires aren’t simply about ceasing fighting, but about advancing or serving as a part of a broader political process — dialogue and negotiation, in other words, ideally leading to a long-term political settlement. Humanitarian pauses are not. A cease-fire is the only one of these two options that has the potential to produce a peaceful, nonviolent solution to the current conflict, because it’s the only one that treats such a solution as an actual goal. ... Cease-fires exist to facilitate dialogue and eventual peace; humanitarian pauses exist to facilitate continued fighting.” — Branko Marcetic, Jacobin
A ceasefire is fine — if Hamas surrenders
“Those who are demanding a ceasefire should aim their demands at Hamas. There can be a ceasefire the moment Hamas releases all its hostages and agrees to disarm by turning over all of its weapons to the United Nations or the government of Egypt. However, doing so would mean putting the wellbeing of the Palestinian people over Hamas’ genocidal ambitions — a fundamental rejection of Hamas’ entire purpose.” — Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, Newsweek