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Leader comment: The peace dividend in Gaza

01 December 2023

AND this week’s lesson is . . . that peace is better than war. After all the theorising, urging, campaigning, and marching, Israel and Gaza experienced a respite from the conflict that has raged since the Hamas terrorist attack on 7 October. Food, fuel, and medical supplies were able to reach the embattled civilian population of Gaza, if in nowhere near the quantities needed. Gazans were able to sleep in relative silence for the first time in six weeks, as were Israelis living near the border and under constant threat of rocket attacks. Attacks on the Israeli forces currently in Gaza virtually stopped, as did their advance on increasingly populated areas in southern Gaza. All these were fruits of the agreement by the two sides to cease firing at each other, call it what you will.

It would be insulting, though, to suggest that the Israelis do not know this. Instead, they challenge their allies with another question: Is peace better than victory? When confronted with a neighbour who pledges to continue the armed struggle, come what may, can they reasonably be expected to draw back from their campaign to reduce Hamas’s ability to carry out any further murderous attacks? Pressure from international partners about the death toll in Gaza was joined latterly by concern from the families of hostages, who feared that their loved ones were being sacrificed — not to mention put in direct danger — in the greater political cause.

The ceasefire is so delicate that, at the time of writing, it is impossible to predict how things will be at the time this article is read. Various factors may disrupt the peace, among them the possible intransigence of non-Hamas groups, who, we have discovered, are holding some of the hostages. Negotiations over the exchange rate, Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages, may shift once those hostages about which the Palestinians are most embarrassed — the women, children, and elderly — are released. Or the Israeli armed forces may simply prevail in the febrile political atmosphere in Israel, and win permission to continue their campaign.

Against this can be balanced the successful release of hostages so far. Part of the pressure for the ceasefire came from the families of hostages, alarmed that the military campaign, far from securing their relatives’ release, seemed to be putting them in greater danger, either from reprisals or collateral harm from the bombing. It may have stuck in Israeli throats to concede anything in return for the restoration of the country’s citizens — but history has many examples of concessions and accommodations, even injustices, that build towards a greater and more lasting peace. And several hundred people, Israelis and Palestinians, are living evidence of the power of negotiation, even between bitter enemies. In the Hebrew Bible, God is described as the Prince of Peace as well the God of victories. Our prayer for Gaza must be that these two aspects are found to be compatible.

Editor's note: This leader comment was written on Wednesday with Friday's publication in mind. Sadly, the ceasefire did not hold that long, although the sentiments expressed remain relevant.

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