With every batch of Israeli hostages that is released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, the prospect of Israel achieving its declared aim of destroying Hamas as a military and political entity becomes far less likely.
When the notion of a hostage swap was first mooted in early November, it was immediately dismissed by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the grounds that any pause in the fighting to allow the hostages to be freed would simply give Hamas time to regroup.
"A ceasefire with Hamas means surrender," Netanyahu commented during an interview with Fox News, adding there was no "timetable" for Israel’s military offensive. "However long it takes, we'll do it."
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas after the militant group poured across the border from Gaza on 7 October, killing 1,200 people and taking around 240 people hostage.
Netanyahu and his hard-right supporters in the Israeli government were eventually pressured to set aside their reservations after coming under pressure from the Biden administration to accept the Qatar-sponsored arrangement to release a number of Israeli hostages in return for Palestinian prisoners being freed.
Resistance to ceasefire
While Netanyahu continued to resist the idea of agreeing to a ceasefire, his government reluctantly accepted the proposal to observe a “pause” in the fighting so that the transfers could take place and much-needed humanitarian aid could be delivered to Gaza.
Moreover, the original plan for a four-day pause in the fighting has now been extended by another two days to allow the release of more Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners. This development has encouraged the Biden administration to believe a more permanent ceasefire might be possible.