Is a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict realistic and why is it so contentious?

Palestinians search through rubble for loved ones amid Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Credit: AP

By Multimedia Producer Connor Parker

With thousands of people dead and a humanitarian crisis developing, calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict is the only option for some, but for others stopping hostilities is paramount to surrendering to terrorism.

Since the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer has fought to maintain party unity on the issue.

On Tuesday Sir Keir acknowledged there was a "humanitarian catastrophe" unfolding in Gaza but noted Hamas would be “emboldened” by a ceasefire.

Despite this, he has faced harsh criticism from some within his party for not going far enough.

Shadow ministers are among senior Labour figures demanding a change in his stance, with frontbencher Alex Cunningham calling for an "immediate ceasefire."

Sir Keir has rejected calls for a ceasefire. Credit: PA

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and London Mayor Sadiq Kahn have also spoken against the official Labour position.

Rishi Sunak is not immune from the issue either after he sacked a junior minister who called for a ceasefire in the conflict.

But with most people acknowledging the enormous loss of life in Gaza is terrible, why is it so difficult to call for a ceasefire and is the prospect of one realistic?

'It's time for war'

So far Israel has vigorously rejected any calls for a ceasefire, with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying last week they would not pause the fight "just as the United States would not agree to a ceasefire after the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the terrorist attack of 9/11."

He argued: "Hamas is doing everything to keep Palestinian civilians in harm's way."

More than 1,400 people have been killed in Israel during the conflict and more than 8,000 have been killed In Gaza.

Mr Netanyahu noted: "The Bible says that there is a time for peace and a time for war.

"This is a time for war, a war for a common future. Today, we draw a line between the forces of civilisation and the forces of barbarism."

Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel has no intention of governing Gaza. Credit: AP

According to Professor Eugene Rogan of Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Oxford, continuing the war is also in Mr Netanyahu's interest, for now.

He told ITV News: "My speculation is the Netanyahu government has failed to secure the safety of their citizens which is an absolute minimum of what people expect."

The country is unified at the moment but the government knows there will be a moment of reckoning that will follow when people ask how did this happen.

He said: "There are going to be a lot of very hard questions asked of the Israeli government."

"They want to say after this very violent campaign they have restored security to Israel, which I think most people would say is a very long shot, it will be very hard to eradicate Hamas."

Despite the nerves over the growing human cost, the US, UK and most of Europe have backed Israel's stance that a ceasefire would be equal to surrendering to Hamas.

This equivocation of a ceasefire as a victory for terrorists means many people can be labelled as supporting Hamas when all they want is to stop the bloodshed.

What will tip the scales in the calls for a ceasefire?

For many Labour politicians and people across the country, there has already been far too much bloodshed and hostilities should stop now, but the governments of the West have not made the same calculation.

Thousands of Palestinians have been killed. Credit: AP

Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow at Chatham House, said: "I think there is a real dilemma, but I think the dilemma has passed its sell-by date by now.

"The initial dilemma was how do you deal with an organisation like Hamas who has committed awful and brutal acts, but how to do this with minimum civilian casualties."

He said "realistically" it is impossible to fight in the Gaza Strip without harming civilians "which cannot be excused."

He said it was hard to tell when Israel's backers would begin calling for a ceasefire, in part because they don't trust the casualty figures coming from the Hamas-controlled Gazan Health Ministry.

He said investigations would be needed to determine casualty numbers and if any war crimes had been carried out, but this would take months and isn't much help for the "people losing their lives now."

He also said the vagueness of the military objectives of Israel made the conflict harder to make a calculation over the cost of victory.

Although destroying Hamas sounds simple Mr Mekelberg says it is far more complicated than it seems, which makes planning for the future difficult.

He said: "The people who support Israel want Israel to succeed but what success looks like and how far away that objective is is murky and the true costs are unknown.

"The things that we know are not the things that really help us to see where it is all heading towards."

This all leads towards the government sticking to their current positions until the true picture becomes clear.

Sanam Vakil, Director of the Middle East & North Africa Programme at Chatham House told ITV News historically America has always given "Israel a very wide berth to handle its security."

She says they are likely to do the same now, adding: "It's the nature of the historical relationship, it doesn't make it right but this is just the precedent."

She said: "I think there is going to be increasing pressure on Israel to dial it back but because Hamas is a proscribed terrorist group and because these attacks were so violent and so egregious the West is giving Israel a very wide berth."

How did previous conflicts in Gaza come to an end?

Prof Rogan said there had been a pattern in previous conflicts between Palestinian militants and Israel in the past.

Israel has promised to ramp up its campaign. Credit: AP

In past cycles of violence between Israel and Hamas, missiles from Gaza or attacks on Israeli military vehicles provoked heavy Israeli retaliation that led to widespread destruction of buildings and high civilian casualties, until international pressure forced Israel to curtail the retaliation.

This time round the difference is the scale, with over 1,600 people killed or taken hostage in Israel.

He points out the conflict with Gaza in 2008-09 13 Israelis died and 1,400 Palestinians were killed, "in terms of proportionate response it's a 100 to one kill rate."

Then in the 2014 Gaza war, it was 71 Israelis dead versus some 2,200 Palestinians, with a ratio of 30 to one.

Prof Rogan acknowledged it is "crude to talk about a threshold of punishment that the Israeli government believe is appropriate."

But he adds: "I just think that the numbers when it is 1,400 Israelis dead, 200 plus hostages that we could be looking at a casualty rate on the Palestinian side reaching 15,000 to 20,000 people before I think this [Israeli] government would believe they had materially demonstrated a suitable level of retaliation."

When asked if the brutality and scale of the Hamas October 7 attack would mean the barometer for calling for a ceasefire by Israel's backers had moved Prof Rogan said: "That is what I fear."

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