Only a First Step, Hostage Deal Shows Diplomacy Is Vital

Relatives and supporters of hostages held in Gaza since the Hamas's October 7 attack in southern Israel, hold placards and images of those taken, during a demonstration outside the defence ministry in Tel Aviv calling for a deal to be made by the Israeli government for their release, on November 15, 2023.

(Photo by Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

Only a First Step, Hostage Deal Shows Diplomacy Is Vital

It is crucial that this agreement is not treated by Biden as an alternative to a ceasefire. Rather, it must be treated as the first step towards it.

The agreement reached Wednesday between Israel and Hamas — and brokered by Qatar and Egypt — is an important first step that will hopefully give all sides an opportunity to step back from the precipice of a larger regional conflagration, and to consider options for ending this war other than by the military destruction of one another.

The return of the hostages to Israel in exchange for the return of Palestinian prisoners is welcome news and hopefully will proceed through subsequent cycles until all the hostages have been returned. The exchange proves that solutions can only be found through diplomacy through the help of actors in the region who can talk to all sides, in this case, Qatar and Egypt.

This agreement should also serve as a wake-up call to the United States about the viability of a ceasefire, in both policy and political terms. President Joe Biden could and should have used political leverage sooner to secure this deal. For the sake of the Israeli hostages, for the sake of the thousands of Palestinian civilians who have been killed by this delay, and for the sake of the longer-term peace: Every Palestinian or Israeli child or civilian killed pushes peace further and further into the future.

And finally, for the sake of preventing a widening of the war that could drag the US into yet another military conflict in the Middle East.

It is crucial that this agreement is not treated by Biden as an alternative to a ceasefire. Rather, it must be treated as the first step towards it.

If it amounts to nothing more than a prelude to a resumption of the military campaign and a continuation of the siege, it will not make much of a difference in stemming the larger humanitarian crisis, preventing a regional war, or paving the way for real peace.

The U.S. has already lost significant international standing through its opposition to a ceasefire. If Biden fails to press all parties for a ceasefire after the prisoner swap, America’s global standing will plummet even further, which will have dire consequences for the U.S., including in Ukraine.

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