Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a weekly opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
The brief respite from the fighting between Hamas and Israel has ended, as many of us expected, reigniting the wrenching conflict that has produced so much suffering on both sides of the Gaza border. The battles are likely to continue. Unless, that is, key players in the Middle East and the rest of the international community step in to exert the necessary pressure and take risks to resolve this conflict.
Is there a way to stop the carnage? Is there any way to bring an end to this war and open a path to lasting peace?
The answer is yes. There is a perfectly reasonable, though extremely difficult and perhaps unrealistic solution. But it’s not an impossible one.
Every plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, every element of a plan, immediately brings to mind the many obstacles it contains. And yet, there are glimmers of light, reasons for some hope. They are faint, but they are remarkable, and they hold the potential for at least a modicum of optimism.
The answer to ending the war, and even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is hardly a mystery. Negotiators have come close to solving the decades-long conflict before. Right now, the first order of business is Hamas, a terrorist organization opposed to reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and committed to Israel’s destruction.
No country can allow a hostile group backed by a near-nuclear armed enemy (Iran, in this case) to govern a territory on its doorstep. Removing Hamas from Gaza by military force is impossible without adding to the despairing conditions of Gazan civilians.
But allowing Hamas to prevail and stay in power would embolden it and its allies, especially Hezbollah in Lebanon. It would strengthen Iran and its network of affiliated militias in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere. A Hamas victory — its survival in power — would destabilize the region and boost Iran. History has shown what happens when aggressors are not deterred.
But if Hamas releases the hostages and lays down its arms, this war could stop.
Why would Hamas do that? Its leaders claim that the people of Gaza, and they themselves, relish martyrdom. But it’s clear Gaza’s leaders don’t want to die. The prospect of survival would be enticing, especially given their vast financial resources. Which brings up another problem: Israel will be reluctant to let Hamas’s leaders get away. And yet, Israel has no guarantee that it can fully uproot and destroy the organization.
To make Hamas leave, Arab and Muslim countries should join the rest of the international community in exerting pressure over the group that unleashed this war.
That would be a reversal from the current push for a permanent ceasefire, which would leave Hamas in power and guarantee that it would attack again, and that another war, likely a much deadlier one, would follow. That’s because if Hamas survives, Hezbollah may well join it the next time. And by then, Hamas may have become so popular that it may be able to take control of the West Bank. If October 7 was a nightmare of killing, an assault from the West Bank and from Lebanon would have apocalyptic potential.
In exchange for Hamas laying down its arms, Israel should agree to restarting a process aimed at the establishment of a Palestinian state. I know, I know. The current Israeli government opposes that, and after Hamas’s massacre of around 1,200 Israelis on October 7, Israelis have experienced a jarring reminder that the “Axis of Resistance,” as the Iran-linked groups committed to destroying Israel and furthering Iran’s objectives call themselves, are very serious about their goal.
The Axis of Resistance should face an Alliance of Peacemakers.
A strong push for peace by Israel’s new Arab friends, the Abraham Accords countries — which normalized diplomatic ties with Israel under the series of Trump-brokered deals bearing that name — perhaps new countries joining that front, along with Arab countries that made peace with Israel earlier, could help persuade Israel that there’s a path toward peace AND security.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has become profoundly unpopular. He is unlikely to survive in power long after the fighting ends. His prospects for remaining in power look even dimmer after the latest reporting from The New York Times that Israeli intelligence officials had information about the impending Hamas attack and dismissed it.
Whoever replaces him, it’s unlikely that the far-right politicians, formerly political pariahs, he brought into his coalition will be part of the next one. Without Netanyahu, the governing coalition could include lawmakers who have refused to join the current prime minister, so extremist parties would not be required to form a governing majority. That’s another bright spot on the horizon.