As you’ve no doubt seen, the series of ceasefires and prisoners-for-hostages exchanges have come to an end and hostilities between the Israeli military and Hamas has resumed. Through several channels Hamas officials have now said that they won’t release any more hostages until the war is over. Though the details are murky it appears that only a small number of female civilians and children remain in captivity. Israel puts the number at 17. Those that remain are male civilians and soldiers.
My hunch is that the cut-off at this point was always in the cards because Hamas recognized that the women and children in their custody were a liability as much as anything of value as leverage. Put simply, it wasn’t a good look — even to many who are sometimes sympathizers with Hamas and its aims.
So this wasn’t about a breakdown in the negotiations or a misstep or miscommunication that led to a breakdown. I suspect the exchanges were never going to go further than roughly this number.
Even after all the swaps, Hamas retains 136 hostages, more than enough to leverage prisoner releases later or to use as human shields. In 2011 Israel exchanged more than 1000 prisoners for a single IDF soldier. As I wrote, for Hamas’s needs it was easy to barter away those who were released. They were more liability than advantage.