Will Hamas meet Israel deadline over release of hostages?

De grens tussen Egypte (links) en de Gazastrook (rechts), met in het midden de grensstad Rafah. Foto: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons (publiek domein)
The border between Egypt (left) and the Gaza Strip (right), with the border town of Rafah in the middle.

Hamas must release all hostages before the start of Ramadan, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has announced. Otherwise, Israel will invade the Palestinian city of Rafah. Hamas is taking this proclamation seriously, Assistant Professor in Islam and Arabic Joas Wagemakers expects. In Nieuws en Co, he explains the dilemma Hamas (and Israel) finds itself in.

Fight on or comply: pressure on Hamas increases

Wagemakers explains that for Hamas, two factors are important: the conviction to fight for a just cause and the Palestinian public opinion. So far, both point towards continuing to fight, he says, which would mean Hamas ignoring Israel’s demands.

Yet Wagemakers does not dare say with certainty that this is the option Hamas will choose. “I think they are constantly wavering,” he says. He points out Hamas has essentially already realised its goal of putting the Palestinian cause back on the global map. With nearly 30,000 Palestinian dead in the Gaza Strip alone, the organisation is under pressure to prevent more fighting, he reckons.

Compromise by Israel?

On the Israeli side, Minister Gallant’s statements seem a compromise, Wagemakers believes. For Israel too, is in a split between two extremes: pressure from its own population and that from the international community.

Wagemakers points to a recent poll in Israel showing that a relative majority of the population would rather fight on than prioritise the release of hostages. “Certainly among the Jewish population and especially among the religious Jewish population,” he says. “On the other hand, there is the international, especially Egyptian, pressure not to bomb Rafah. You can see that Netanyahu’s government has to navigate between those.”