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Contributor to The Saturday Paper and Middle East correspondent for The Economist Gregg Carlstrom, on the ceasefire, how long it could hold and what will happen when the war continues.

What does the Israel-Hamas ceasefire really mean?

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The first brief ceasefire has taken effect in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

As the shooting stops, families are being reunited, as hostages are freed and civilian prisoners are released from behind bars. But meanwhile, decisions are being made about when and how the fighting will resume.

Today, contributor to The Saturday Paper and Middle East correspondent for The Economist Gregg Carlstrom, on the ceasefire, how long it could hold and what will happen when the war continues.

 

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Guest: Contributor to The Saturday Paper and Middle East correspondent for The Economist Gregg Carlstrom.

Read Transcript
[Theme Music Starts]
 
##ANGE:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ange McCormack. This is *7am*.
 
The first brief ceasefire has taken effect in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
 
As the shooting stops, families are being reunited as hostages are freed and civilian prisoners are released from behind bars – but meanwhile, decisions are being made about when and how the fighting will resume.
 
Today, contributor to *The Saturday Paper* and Middle East correspondent for *The Economist* Gregg Carlstrom, on the ceasefire, how long it will hold, and what will happen when the war continues.
 
It’s Tuesday, November 28.
 
[Theme Music Ends]
 
##ANGE:
Greg, over the last few days, the first brief ceasefire in Gaza has taken effect. What have we seen happen since this pause in fighting started?
 
##GREGG: 
I think there are three main things that we've seen. There's been an influx of aid into Gaza. There have been people trying to get from southern Gaza to northern Gaza to see what's left of their homes. And then, of course, there's been the hostage and prisoner swap. 
 
So starting with the aid under the agreement between Israel and Hamas, Israel is supposed to permit 200 trucks a day carrying aid to enter Gaza. That's up from an average of about 45 trucks a day that have entered over the previous month. So a significant increase in humanitarian aid, even though it's still well below the 500 trucks a day that went into Gaza before the war. Most of those have made it in on Friday. 200 trucks queued up to enter. About 140 of them were able to get into Gaza. On Saturday, the numbers were a bit higher. It was about 187 of the trucks that made it in. 
 
Along with that, you've had thousands of people from the South who have been trying to get to the north. Some of them have been shot. The Israeli army told people not to move from the south to the north. Many people tried to do so anyway. There are reports of at least two Palestinians being shot and killed and at least a dozen others injured by Israeli forces. And, of course, many of them getting back to the north to find that there is nothing left of their homes. Half of the buildings in northern Gaza have been either destroyed or badly damaged. 
 
And then, of course, the final part of this, which was the reason for the truce in the first place, is the release of hostages, Israeli hostages in Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners as part of that agreement. On the first day, there were 24 hostages released. More than half of them were Israelis. The rest were 11 migrant workers from Thailand and the Philippines, and 17 more on Saturday. And there are supposed to be about 50 Israeli hostages released during this four day truce, plus an unknown number of foreign hostages as well.
 
##ANGE:
And so these releases have been long anticipated by their families. What have we seen and what has it meant for them?
 
##GREGG: 
As you would expect, we've seen images of tearful and joyful reunions, both for Israeli families and Palestinian families.
 
##Audio excerpt – [Palestinian supporters cheering]
 
##Audio excerpt – News Reporter (9News): 
“Dozens of hostages have been released by Hamas in exchange for a large group of Palestinian prisoners…”
 
##GREGG: 
The Israeli hostages who have been released so far, they're all women and children. The youngest, just two years old, the oldest, an 85 year old woman who was released on Friday. They are mostly from the kibbutzim, the small villages around the Gaza border that were really hard hit on October 7th. They were brought out of Gaza into Egypt, given some initial medical treatment in Egypt. They were all reportedly in good condition and then were brought back into Israel where they were reunited with their families.
 
##Audio excerpt – [Palestinian supporters cheering]
 
##GREGG: 
We've also seen about 80 Palestinian prisoners so far, again, women and children who have been released. The terms of the deal are that for every Israeli hostage that Hamas releases, Israel will release three Palestinian prisoners. Some of them have been accused of serious crimes, but some of them have not been charged with anything. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Returned Palestinian prisoner: (translated from Arabic) 
“We were very surprised, but it was a wonderful feeling. Thank God.” 
 
##GREGG: 
They've been held for months, perhaps years, in what Israel calls administrative detention, which is a policy of holding people without charge. There were 5000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails before the war started. Israel has arrested at least 2000 more since the war began. And again, just a small fraction of those who will be released. We're talking about probably 150 prisoners over the course of this four-day truce.
 
##ANGE:
Hm. And this conflict, Greg, has been going on for almost two months now. Why was this brief ceasefire agreed to now?
 
##GREGG:  
Israel and Hamas could have reached a similar deal weeks ago. And I think the reason that they reached it now has to do with two things: one of them is Israel feels it's made progress in its ground offensive in Gaza. The army feels like it has effective control in the north. It is continuing to look for underground tunnels, to look for arms, to look for those sorts of things. But it has made enough progress that the military felt okay agreeing to a short-term truce, even though that would give Hamas a bit of time to regroup. 
 
The other thing is political pressure. When the war began, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, insisted that the goal of the war, the single goal of the war, was to remove Hamas from power in Gaza. And he didn't talk much in the beginning about getting back the hostages, the families of the hostages felt like they weren't getting any help from the government. It took Netanyahu more than a week to meet with them. And so the families of the hostages were very, very unhappy. And so they've organised into this increasingly powerful political force in Israel. They held a protest march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They've been lobbying Israeli politicians, foreign leaders to prioritise the hostage issue. 
 
But this got to a point where Netanyahu had to prioritise the humanitarian, actually interests of the families of the hostages over the political interests of his base because the families had just become such a force. 
 
The agreement between Israel and Hamas says that after this four day period is up, if Hamas releases an additional ten hostages, it gets another 24 hours of calm in Gaza and that can be repeated indefinitely. So each day, if it wants to release ten hostages and it still has close to 200 more, so it could if it wanted to prolong this truce by days or even weeks. 
 
But once the truce is over, once this, however long it takes four days or longer, the families, I think, will put increasing pressure on the government to prioritise another deal with Hamas. There's a real concern when you talk to the families that, you know, these hostages are thought to be in underground tunnels in southern Gaza. 
 
The Israeli army increasingly turning its focus to southern Gaza as the next phase of the military campaign. And there's nowhere else for Hamas to move these hostages. So there is a real fear that both aerial bombardment and a ground invasion in southern Gaza will risk the life of not just Palestinians there, but also these hostages as well.
 
##ANGE:
After the break…what will happen when the ceasefire ends?
 
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##ANGE:
Greg, As this episode is published, the ceasefire will be nearing its expected end. What do you think's going to happen on the ground when this brief truce is over?
 
##GREGG: 
It's not just the hostages who have been moved to the south. It's also the leadership of Hamas is thought to be in southern Gaza now. Many of its fighters seem to have moved down there as well. And, of course, almost the entire Palestinian population in Gaza is now in the south. 
 
So for the Israeli army, the next phase of the campaign is to do what it did in the north, but to do it in the south; to go in and again, look for tunnels, look for the Hamas leadership, try to find rocket launchers and other weapons and destroy all of that infrastructure. 
 
The big issue with doing that obviously is that everyone is there, the entire civilian population. There's nowhere for them to go now. So the idea that the Israelis are going to do heavy bombardment and then send in armoured divisions the way they did in the north is something that if they do it, it is probably going to be disastrous for civilians. 
 
The Army is talking about setting up what it calls a humanitarian zone in a place called Al-Mawasi, which is a strip of farmland on the Mediterranean coast in central Gaza. It's an area that's smaller than Nauru. So the idea that you could cram 2 million people into there is obviously far fetched. It's also an area where there just is not much infrastructure. There's nowhere for  these people to sleep. There's nowhere for these people to get food, to get medical treatments. There is just no way you're going to get the entire population there. 
 
So I think what is likely to happen is the Israeli campaign in the south is going to look a bit different than it did in the north. It's not going to be sending in columns and columns of tanks. It's going to be very complicated operationally for the Israelis. And it's very, very complicated in humanitarian terms for the UN and all of the other agencies that are trying to keep people alive in Gaza.
 
##ANGE:
And Greg, for the fighting to end, there has to be some kind of end goal. You know, the question of what both sides might look like after, it's obviously hard to predict. But what seems most likely in terms of what Gaza will look like? And will Israel's leadership with Netanyahu have a quick expiration date?
 
##GREGG: 
I think it's easier to answer the latter part of that question, which is that by all indications, yes, Netanyahu is on his way out and we don't know exactly when that's going to be because we don't know exactly when the war is going to end and when there will be an election. But poll after poll over the past seven weeks has shown his support has absolutely collapsed. He will go from, according to surveys, from having about 32 seats right now in the 120 members collapsed down to 16, 17, 18. So losing half of his vote compared to the election last year. I think not surprising. Netanyahu was politically controversial even before October 7th, and many Israelis already wanted him gone. 
 
Now he's presided over the greatest intelligence and security failure in half a century in Israel. And so I think even people on the right, even his supporters on the right at this point, they're not necessarily looking to vote for the left, but they want a new prime minister. They want Netanyahu gone and they will vote for change regardless of their politics. 
 
The question of what happens in Gaza. Much harder to say. There are a couple of questions there. I think. First is, who's going to provide security in Gaza after the war? 
 
There has been some talk both in Israel and in the West about trying to put together a peacekeeping force, a multinational force that could go into Gaza. They would like to see Arab states join up. The problem is almost every Arab state, if you ask them, they have no interest, that they don't want to be seen as policing the Palestinians, policing their fellow Arabs, helping Israel occupy the territory. So they don't want to do that. The Israeli army at least does not want to occupy Gaza permanently, but it's hard to see who else will provide security there. 
 
Then there's the question of governance, basic services, reconstruction. Again, in the West, what they would like to see is the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the occupied West Bank. They would like to see the P.A. come back to Gaza. The problem there is the P.A., first is not willing to go back. It doesn't want to be seen going back on Israeli tanks, as they say. So the only way that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, would be willing to go back to Gaza is if it was part of some broader effort to reach a two-state solution and end the conflict. And that is something Netanyahu has spent his entire political career trying to prevent. So that's a major obstacle to the P.A. coming back. 
 
But I think my takeaway from every conversation over the past seven weeks with Israeli officials, Arab officials, Western officials, is that no one really has a plan for what comes after the war. No one really has a viable plan for the day after. 
 
##ANGE: 
And, Greg, it's clear that the as you say, the conflict is far from over and the most challenging days could actually be ahead. So what can make the fighting stop?
 
##GREGG:  
Most of the world wants the fighting to stop. You have 120 countries that voted in favour of a UN resolution calling for a sustained ceasefire. The problem is the one voice that really matters internationally is not calling for a ceasefire, and that's Joe Biden's voice. As long as he is not pushing for one, I don't see international pressure on Israel amounting to much. The American argument is very much in line with the Israeli argument that a ceasefire now would allow Hamas to stay in power, allow it to threaten Israel again. And America views that as unacceptable. 
 
At the same time, America is increasingly concerned about both Israel's tactics in the war. It's been more and more critical that Israel has not done enough to protect civilians, that the human toll of this has been catastrophic. 
 
There's also been some hope that this short term truce between Israel and Hamas could be extended into something bigger, that it could be the starting point for a more permanent ceasefire. But I don't think that's realistic at this point. 
 
I think the problem is that for the majority of, vast majority of Israelis, their view of Hamas fundamentally changed on October 7th. They thought this was a threat on their border, but a manageable threat, something that they could live with, and there would be occasional short rounds of fighting, but it was contained and deterred. And that idea of Hamas was obviously shattered. 
 
I don't think there's anything that could be negotiated between the two sides that would really lend itself to a permanent ceasefire. The Israeli view of this is very much that Hamas has to go and we're not making any more deals with them. 
 
So really, in a lot of ways here, we're in uncharted territory. You know, Gaza, for 15 years there have been every few years wars between Israel and Hamas, Israel and Islamic Jihad. But there's always been an understanding that those wars would end in a matter of days and a matter of weeks, and we would all go back to the status quo that was in place before the war. Nothing would fundamentally change. Hamas would stay in control of Gaza. Israel would maintain its blockade of Gaza. And the cycle just repeated. That cycle is broken now, and the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians has been completely upended. But what happens next? What this looks like afterwards? It's really impossible to predict.
 
##ANGE:
Greg, thanks so much for your time today.
 
##GREGG: 
Thank you. 
 
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[Theme Music Starts]
 
##ANGE:
Also in the news today…
 
Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzeulllo has been sacked, after an independent inquiry found he had breached the government’s code of conduct at least 14 times. 
 
In September, an investigation published by the Nine Newspapers revealed text messages Pezzullo sent to Liberal powerbroker Scott Briggs, which appeared to try and influence political decisions in Canberra. 
 
And 
 
Queensland MP Bob Katter has called for the effigy of King Charles to not appear on Australian coins, as planned, early next year. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Bob Katter: 
"By heavens, you pull out a 20 cent coin and have a look at it, it's got an English Monarch on it. When's this country going to grow up?! You know, I am sorry, we are not English anymore, we're Australians."
 
##ANGE:
Katter said he doesn’t want a ‘foreign person’ on Australian money, and is proposing for the portrait of an Australian army veteran, or an Indigenous warrior, to appear on the coins instead. 
 
I’m Ange McCormack, this is *7am*.  We’ll be back again tomorrow. 
 
[Theme Music Ends]

Background Reading

news
November 25, 2023
Four-day ceasefire agreed in Israel–Hamas war

A truce in the Israel–Hamas war will allow a pause in fighting and the release of hostages, although if fighting recommences the ground offensive may spread to southern Gaza.