It’s a rare thing for Israeli and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas to agree on anything, let alone a prisoner exchange deal. Yet the two sides will start a four-day truce on Friday morning, with the first batch of Israeli hostages released later that day. Mediators in Qatar announced the agreement, which comes after weeks of intense diplomacy.
The details of the deal are still murky, but the general idea is that Israel will cease strikes on Gaza in the hope that a prisoner swap will take place. The two countries want the deal to go through before they can finalize a broader ceasefire that would pave the way for complete peace.
The Israel-Has deal would give Hamas time to round up the hostages it has been holding and allow for international Red Cross visits to the prisoners, which will happen in batches, according to officials familiar with the plan. Israel also wants Hamas to hand over a list of the people it has held hostage to verify they are alive and to make sure they haven’t been given to others, like other militant groups that have captured civilians to use as bargaining chips.
This will be a complex, careful, slow process, and the possibility of something going sideways remains high. Until the deal is implemented, Israeli attacks will continue, and Gaza’s already dire humanitarian crisis will only worsen. But the agreement is a sign of a glimmer of hope for those whose loved ones are still in captivity and their families.
Even though Netanyahu favored the deal, many members of his government were not. In the end, three ministers from his far-right Otzma Yehudit party voted nay, with 35 other ministers consenting to the deal. And the far-left Zionist Union also voted against the plan.
Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas are trying to arrange a release of 50 Israeli women and children under the age of 19 taken hostage in a series of Oct. 7 terror attacks. In return, Hamas will free 150 Palestinian women and teenagers in Israeli detention.
Hamas’ agreement to an exchange has come after weeks of intense diplomacy, and it was mainly due to pressure from Israel and the United States, as well as the urgings of several international leaders, including European officials. The United Nations has also been a critical force in the negotiations.
Israel and Hamas will meet in Egypt on Thursday to discuss the final arrangements for the prisoner swap. Once it’s complete, the current prisoners will be escorted to Gaza’s border with Egypt and then to Israel, where teams of trauma experts and medics will be waiting for them. They’ll be welcomed with hugs and pizza or chicken schnitzel, according to guidelines set out in the negotiated plan. Then, they’ll be able to spend the holiday with their families. This Editor’s Note was sent out in the Times of Israel Community newsletter earlier Wednesday. If you want to receive these weekly updates, join the community here.