More Hamas Tea Leaves

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I wanted to flag your attention to two articles on Hamas and the Israel-Hamas War generally.

On the fate of the hostages, the Times of Israel reports that senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad tells Al Jazeera that his group is not interested in releasing any more hostages, even for a ceasefire lasting multiple weeks. I take this as more confirmation of the point we discussed yesterday, which is that the remaining hostages, or at least a substantial number of them, are the sole remaining strategic asset Hamas has. Hamas’ leadership rightly see itself as in a war to the death with Israel. So they’re not going to give those hostages up.

Gershon Baskin is an Israeli who has kept up longstanding lines of communications with Hamas leaders and was helped negotiated the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011. He says basically what we’re saying here. Hamas doesn’t want to even discuss releasing anyone unless the whole conflict stops. Baskin proposes that Israel take the initiative and compile a list of high value prisoners convicted of acts of terrorism that it is willing to release in exchange for some or all of the hostages. It would then publicize the list to place pressure on Hamas to agree to it.

There is as you’d expect a lot of resistance within Israel to releasing prisoners convicted of killing Israelis. But even apart from that, the outside-the-box nature of this strategy Baskin proposes on its own underscores how hard it will be to make any more deals for the release of more hostages.

An even more interesting article is this one from The Wall Street Journal. You need a subscription to read it. But the gist is this: there’s an increasing rift between the Hamas political leadership in Doha, Qatar and the military leadership in Gaza itself. The former has been holding secret talks with the Fatah leadership in the West Bank with a view toward bringing Hamas within the PLO fold. This has angered the leadership in Gaza who still thinks they’re playing a winning hand in Gaza or at least believes it’s too early to start making compromises or bringing the conflict to an end. Yahya Sinwar, the military chief in Gaza, reportedly demanded the talks stop. But they didn’t.

One interpretation of this is that Hamas is growing desperate, as the Israeli military begins slowly to dismantle Hamas’s military infrastructure in Gaza. I think that is the case. But that’s what I want to believe. I simply don’t know enough about the players to question the evidence in a way that allows me to distinguish what I would like to believe from what is actually the case. We’re on firmer ground in thinking that the political leadership in Doha has decided Hamas has likely gained all it’s going to gain from the storm it unleashed on October 7th and it’s time to start planning for what comes next.

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