While many are calling for a full ceasefire of the Israel-Hamas war, a new voice has emerged—that which calls for a ‘humanitarian pause’ to the military operation, which could prove advantageous for Israel, the Palestinians, and the region as a whole.

As the Israel-Hamas war rages on one month since the brutal Hamas attack on October 7, calls on Israel by the international community to implement greater forms of humanitarian relief for Gazan civilians grow increasingly louder. While many of these calls have been for a full ceasefire to the war, a new voice has begun to emerge—that which calls for a ‘humanitarian pause’ to the military operation. Israel has fully encircled Gaza City, an operational development that launches counterterrorism efforts to a new phase and gives Israel the bandwidth to embrace new tactics in this war. As of today, Israel has also announced it will begin to implement short, daily, four-hour pauses to fighting. Given these new realities, it is important to consider the numerous advantages that the idea of a humanitarian pause, both in small bursts and for more significant time periods, could have for Israel, the Palestinians, and the region. 

It is important to note that, from the get-go, a humanitarian pause is not the same thing as a ceasefire. A true ceasefire would allow Hamas to remain in power, and it likely receive financial benefits during the rebuilding of Gaza along with the return of Palestinian prisoners during hostage negotiations. This would be a strategic win for Hamas, strengthening them, emboldening them, deeming their strategy of terrorism successful. Any outcome to this war that rewards Hamas politically or financially will not lead to greater long-term peace and stability in the region. Moreover, after the events of October 7, Israel will not allow Hamas to remain operational. The only way out of this conflict is through it. 

That being said, a temporary humanitarian pause is incredibly important to implement and could be strategic for Israel. With the Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry reporting over 10,000 Gazans killed, 70% of Gaza’s population internally displaced, and a quarter of all buildings in northern Gaza having been destroyed, the humanitarian catastrophe is impossible to overlook. Gaza residents are facing an acute shortage of food and water. Regardless of where one stands on this conflict, on the necessity of the military operation, and who is ultimately to blame for this all taking place, the genuine human suffering unfolding should not, and cannot, be ignored. A devastating humanitarian crisis on Israel’s border is incredibly dangerous. Greater disaster will easily lead to more instability and violence and heighten the risk of extremist activity and radicalization. Given that Israel will likely be responsible for managing this population after the war is over for at least some time, and Gazans will already be hostile to any form of Israeli control, it is in Israel’s interest to mitigate this hostility as much as possible. 

The aftermath of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, October 9, 2023

A humanitarian pause will also help Israel appease its regional and global partners who are increasingly calling for a ceasefire or some level of humanitarian relief. Israel’s relationships with Jordan, Egypt, and Sunni Gulf states have been seriously impacted by the war. Jordan and Bahrain have recalled ambassadors, Saudi normalization has been put on pause, and resounding calls for an immediate end to the violence from Egyptians, Emiratis, Jordanians, and governments across the region have been voiced clearly and loudly. Though these countries do not support Hamas, the Palestinian cause still deeply resonates with their regimes and populations. It is not sustainable for these countries to support action against Hamas given the amount of human suffering in Gaza. 

While Israel won’t base its counterterror calculations on the needs of other countries, the military gains it has made allow Israel the bandwidth to heed the calls of its partners in the region. Egypt and Jordan, in particular, are incredibly important allies for Israel, providing counterterror support against Islamist militants and Iranian proxies, giving Israel credibility to continue expanding its ties in the Arab world, and serving as important partners in trade and in combating the climate crisis. The same can be said for Bahrain and the UAE. Moreover, Israel will need these partners to help design and implement a plan for the economic, security, and political management of the Gaza strip once this war is over. Each of these partners will play a critical role in deciding what happens next. 

Trucks of goods entering Gaza through the Kerem Shalom Crossing

The same can be said for the Palestinian Authority. While an imperfect partner, the PA plays a vital role in helping Israel fight terrorism in the West Bank, manages the daily life of millions of Palestinians, offers hope for the establishment of a future Palestinian state, and will, undoubtedly, play a crucial role in managing the Gaza strip. The PA, however, is under immense pressure to cease cooperation with Israel on any front if this humanitarian disaster continues to unfold. While Israel may ultimately disagree with its Arab partners on the role of a ceasefire, a humanitarian pause will begin to ease tensions across the region, allow Arab states to play a role in easing the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip, and allow all parties to better plan for the day after. 

Beyond Israel’s Arab partners, the United States has also begun to ask for a humanitarian pause. The Biden administration has demonstrated its deep support for Israel in this conflict. As more of the international community becomes more critical of Israel as this war continues, Israel will need U.S. support on an international level to successfully further its counterterrorism mission. Thus, U.S. calls for a humanitarian pause should be taken very seriously.

Many in Israel argue that any humanitarian relief to the Gaza Strip will only empower Hamas further. It is true that Hamas takes significant portions of aid, supplies, and international funding for itself. Over the past 16 years of Hamas rule of Gaza, they have not demonstrated that they are willing or able to properly develop Gaza or deliver support to their people. They have a huge amount of responsibility for the ongoing humanitarian disaster in the Strip, and it is likely that, if and when Israel implements a humanitarian pause, there will be some benefit for Hamas. That being said, the reality on the ground is that, even without a humanitarian pause, Hamas is still able to fire rockets and escalate military aggression. The benefits of getting humanitarian aid to an ailing population outweigh the possible benefits to Hamas, and may even offer deterrence for Hamas to continue escalating.

Palestinians receiving aid at a distribution center in Rafah run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)

As recently as this morning, even Prime Minister Netanyahu is becoming more open to calls for a humanitarian pause and will begin implementing four-hour, daily pauses in fighting. This welcome step is an important starting point as Israel attempts to figure out the strategy behind its next phase of fighting. It is important to reiterate that a humanitarian pause is not a ceasefire. It is in Israel’s interest to continue doing what it must to dismantle Hamas infrastructure and capabilities in Gaza. However, given the success of the operation so far, it is also in Israel’s interest to seriously consider the strategic benefits and advantages of implementing a humanitarian pause to provide much needed relief to civilians in the Gaza Strip.