A deal to release hostages held in Gaza in exchange for a pause in the fighting could be struck as soon as today, multiple officials told CNN.
But while optimism is finally growing after six fraught weeks, it is worth keeping in mind the context in which these negotiations are taking place.
For Hamas, the hostages are the only real leverage it holds. The Israeli military is pounding Gaza from the air and on the ground, killing at least 12,700 Palestinians since October 7, according to figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health in the West Bank, which draws its data from Hamas-run health authorities in Gaza. Meanwhile, Iran has not become involved to anything like the extent to which Hamas would have wanted.
But while the hostages might be the only strong card Hamas holds, it is one that gives the group enormous power – which they will be extremely reluctant to play. Israel knows this.
Even if Hamas held just a fraction of the approximately 239 hostages it captured on October 7, it would still hold considerable leverage over Israel, which has long been known to pay a high price to secure the release of those held captive in Gaza. In 2011, Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a single soldier – Gilad Shalit, who had been held hostage for five years.
And even if Hamas is willing to deliver on a deal, there are huge logistical challenges that may prevent it from doing so. It is unclear if the Hamas leadership has a clear idea of where the hostages are held. Communications in the territory have been degraded by Israeli airstrikes, so coordinating a release on the ground will present great challenges.
On the other side, Israel’s leadership is under enormous domestic pressure to secure the hosts’ release. As an indication of mainstream Israeli opinion: most – although not all – Israelis would be happy to see the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails as part of any swap deal.
But Israel distrusts Hamas and is reluctant to agree to any pause in its campaign to destroy the group. At the same time, it does not want to give Israelis the impression it is not doing everything it can to bring the hostages home. So, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does have an incentive to keep alive the idea that negotiations are active, whether the latest development is word of progress or word of a setback.