According to Politico:

But while Israel and the U.S. want to secure the release of as many hostages as possible, Hamas also could have reasons to hold onto as much leverage as it can afford.

Some basic math: If there are about 200 hostages left in Hamas’ captivity, that means there could be up to 20 more days without fighting — under the terms in the Israeli government’s statement — if the militant group releases all of them. Many observers believe Hamas is unlikely to let them all go at once, however, based on its history.

Does Hamas have any leverage against Israel other than the hostages? I was thinking that after Hamas runs out of hostages, Israel won't want to negotiate with Hamas.

But maybe Hamas has other leverage it can use against Israel to force it to negotiate something with it. Is that the case?


4 Answers 4


Rising Palestinian casualties
The obvious leverage that Hamas has is the suffering of the Palestinian civilians combined with the mediatization of the conflict. As of this moment Wikipedia cites the casualties of the conflict as 1,320 killed and 7,266 wounded on the Israeli side (most of these casualties occurring on 7/10) vs. 14,854 killed, 36,000+ wounded and 7000+ missing in Gaza and 255 killed and 2,469 wounded in the West Bank.

Acknowledging Israel's right to defend itself and the difficulty of carrying the anti-terrorist operation in a densely populated area do not change the fact that the continuation of war causes more and more Palestinian casualties, and the suffering to hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of displaced persons. This is augmented by the over-mediatization of the conflict, where much more numerous casualties hardly made a topic in the news - like the NATO invasion of Afghanistan, war in Iraq, war in Syria (each costing a few hudnred thousand lives - as compared to a bit over 100,000 deaths in the whole history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.) Finally, not the last is the western ambivalence towards the conflict - tendency to draw moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel, which we do not observe in other conflicts where western values are at stake - notably regarding ISIS or Ukraine.

This means that there will be more and more governments demanding the cease-fire, preventing the elimination of Hamas.

Economical reasons
Quite unusually, the Israeli economy was hit hard by the war. This means not only the high war-related expenses and lower investor confidence, but also the depleted workforce, as most male Israelis aged up to 45 are a part of the reservists which were called to the army - either to fight or to replace the standing army engaged in Gaza.

It is likely that Hamas release most of hostages, but not all of them - keeping a few of those that they find most valuable - e.g., soldiers or children. The hostage problem will then become less acute in the eyes of the world, which will make the further military action is even less justified, even in terms of the military casualties suffered by Israel.

  • 2
    this does not answer the question. this is a list of factors that may cause Israel to shorten or stop its campaign in the strip. that does not make them leverage. leverage is something that Hamas can offer Israel in exchange for prolonging the ceasefire or other benefits. Nov 27, 2023 at 10:23
  • 16
    @SharonBenAsher the question does not mention prolonging ceasefire. Leverage is not necessarily offering something, but exerting force/pressure on the opponent - using its own population as hostages has been Hamas strategy for decades by now. Nov 27, 2023 at 10:31

leverage [...] to negotiate something

The answer to this question is going to depend on what that something is. Thus far Israel says is only willing to accept outright surrender [or death] of Hamas as the conclusion of the military campaign. For example, defense minister Gallant said on Oct 17

Hamas members have two options: Either die in their positions or surrender unconditionally. There is no third option.

Similar quotes from Netanyahu earlier on can be found in a related Q&A. I haven't followed this closely since then, but I've not seen any other statements altering that ultimate goal.

Israel was willing to negotiate a temporary ceasefire, with a somewhat complicated structure--trading some Palestinian prisoners, limited-time ceasefire, and more aid to Gaza in exchange for Hamas releasing some hostages.

Israel says that civilian casualties are unavoidable collateral damage and [says] they won't stop their military campaign because of that. E.g.

“In 1944, the Royal Air Force bombed the Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen — a perfectly legitimate target,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in an address to his nation on Oct. 30. “But the British pilots missed and instead of the Gestapo headquarters, they hit a children’s hospital nearby. And I think 84 children were harmed and burned to death. That is not a war crime. That is not something you blame Britain for doing.” (In fact the bombing was in 1945, hit a school, and is believed to have killed 86 children and 18 adults.)

Mr. Netanyahu added that the attack “was a legitimate act of war with tragic consequences that accompany such legitimate action. And you didn’t tell the Allies, ‘Don’t stamp out Nazism because of such tragic consequences.’”

Whether you believe them or not that they won't stop the war unless Hamas is completely defeated is in the eye of the beholder right now. History of past Israel-Hamas clashes argues against it, but then there was no prior Hamas attack of the magnitude of Oct 7. Certainly the US--whose opinion matters more than others'--thus far remains supportive of Israel's ultimate goal in this campaign, even if they are making somewhat more noises about the safety of Gaza civilians than Israel is. For example, Biden said on Nov 18:

If Hamas cared at all for Palestinian lives, it would release all the hostages, give up arms, and surrender the leaders and those responsible for Oct. 7.

As long as Hamas clings to its ideology of destruction, a cease-fire is not peace. To Hamas’s members, every cease-fire is time they exploit to rebuild their stockpile of rockets, reposition fighters and restart the killing by attacking innocents again. An outcome that leaves Hamas in control of Gaza would once more perpetuate its hate and deny Palestinian civilians the chance to build something better for themselves.

Although Netanyahu did apparently soften his position on a temporary ceasefire (e.g. compared to Nov 10), he was also quoted as saying on Nov 21 as the ceasefire began:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday asked his government to accept a deal for Palestinian Hamas militants to free some hostages in Gaza in exchange for a multi-day truce even as the death of a hostage in captivity was announced. [...] The pause would facilitate delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza. [...]

But Netanyahu said Israel's broader mission had not changed.

"We are at war and we will continue the war until we achieve all our goals. To destroy Hamas, return all our hostages and ensure that nobody in Gaza can threaten Israel," he said in a recorded message at the start of the latest government meeting.

And the US also doesn't appear to change their tune, e.g. in a presser on Nov 28:

Q[:] Also, Israel has said that in renewing their military campaign, you know, they want to get rid of Hamas altogether. Is that something that the U.S. still thinks is realistic?

MR. KIRBY: We believe they have a right and a responsibility to eliminate this terrorist threat. And Hamas showed its colors pretty well on October 7th, and it’s still a viable threat to the Israeli people and to the Israeli nation.

And so, they have said that they’re going to resume operations. I’ll let them speak for their plans and their intentions. But we still believe that they face a truly genocidal threat from Hamas.

And if you care what some pundits say...

CNN's Becky Anderson, Nov 27:

For Hamas, the holding of hostages presents the only real leverage they have over Israel. The promise to release hostages has been the only thing that caused Israel to relent in seven weeks of fighting.

The New Arab, Nov 27:

Hamas are aware that hostages are their only leverage when it comes to negotiating ceasefires or humanitarian pauses with Israel.

Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, Nov 24:

Hamas risks losing leverage if all hostages are freed, and Benjamin Netanyahu promised a full victory. [...] Netanyahu has called it a fight between barbarism and civilisation, so can hardly afford a conflict that does not lead to complete victory.

NATO Stratcom, but back in 2014:

Hamas’ use of human shields is therefore likely aimed at minimising their own vulnerabilities by limiting the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) freedom of action. It is also aimed at gaining diplomatic and public opinion-related leverage, by presenting Israel and the IDF as an aggressor that indiscriminately strikes civilians.

So, yeah, using own civilians as human shields that are hard to avoid can be construed as leverage, although several sources writing about the present conflict seem to evaluate that that isn't working as well in the present context.

This Nov 3 FT piece by Aaron David Miller is slightly dated commentary (from before the temporary ceasefire), but still seems relevant in view of other declarations by both leader since then:

The sheer scale of the death toll in Gaza, combined with rising anger in the president’s own party and among America’s allies, would seem likely to push Biden towards the point at which he’ll need to press Israel hard on restraint, even a significant pause or end to its military campaign. But thus far Biden’s persona, the magnitude of the slaughter on October 7 and the dearth of good options have clearly limited the extent of influence and leverage the US is willing and able to bring to bear on Israel. It’s hard to imagine this president calling Netanyahu with a disarmingly simple message: enough.

Indeed, when it comes to preventing the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, both Biden and Israel are in a bind — and right now there seems to be no way out.

Basically, civilian casualties in Gaza are an indirect form of leverage for Hamas, only effective to the extent that others internalize these casualties as disproportionate [in a given context] and these others exert their own leverage on Israel's government.

  • Hamas members have two options: Either die in their positions or surrender unconditionally. There is no third option. This is propaganda issued during war; it's not a rational statement of policy. This answer doesn't actually seem to answer the question - it's wrong to claim that Israel doesn't want to negotiate anything, as clearly it has negotiated a temporary ceasefire and in the past has negotiated other things with Hamas such as other prisoner exchanges (albeit generally of a tactical nature). So you're ignoring the question about leverage.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 27, 2023 at 13:35
  • @StuartF: I am not ignoring it. I'm just saying leverage is relative to the undefined "something" from the vague Q. Hamas may have some leverage to buy themselves some days of ceasefire. It might not have any leverage to avoid being kicked out of power in Gaza. Of course, according to official statements. If you want to substitute your opinion to that like Roger... Nov 27, 2023 at 14:29
  • @StuartF: FWTW, it looks like they're putting propaganda in action again. Ceasefire is over; combat ops are on again dw.com/en/israel-hamas-war-idf-says-combat-resumes-in-gaza/… Dec 1, 2023 at 8:40
  • If you want to substitute your opinion to that like Roger... Quoting official statements from the Israeli government (and less official opinion pieces) proves little here. The growing number of governments calling for a ceasefire, the UN investigation, the pro-Palestinian protests, and the fact that this has been the pattern over many rounds of this conflict - this is a different story. My answer may lack thorough statistics to this end - that I concede. Dec 9, 2023 at 6:51

In order to answer, first let us clearly establish what leverage is: leverage is some action that Hamas can offer Israel in exchange for prolonging the ceasefire or other benefits.

I fail to see how Hamas fighting force, and the status of the civilian population is something that Hamas can use in an offer to Israel.

So no, I do not see any leverage other than the hostages. this is the same kind of leverage that Hamas used when it kidnapped Gilad Shalit in 2006. and I do believe that Hamas leaders will keep some of the hostages until the end of the war, if only to save their own skins.

  • 6
    "I fail to see how Hamas fighting force [...] is something that Hamas can use in an offer to Israel." Offering to cease armed struggle is a leverage, even in a conflict as loopsided as the Palestinian one. Yes, Hamas is going to lose a direct fight with Israel, but that does not mean that such a conflict is not costly (both in life and resource) for Israel. Being the weaker side obviously gives Hamas less leverage, but Israel has something to win if Hamas stops fighting on its own. That is why in wars the victors agree to the enemy surrendering, even with conditions.
    – SJuan76
    Nov 27, 2023 at 10:59
  • @SJuan76 considering that one of the declared goals of Israel is the total removal of Hamas from Gaza strip, then an offer of ceasefire for its own sake will never be favorably regarded by Israel. so yes, IMO only release of of hostages will get Israel to cease its campaign Nov 27, 2023 at 11:43

Hamas can use its diplomatic leverage, which could be quite powerful. In exchange for Israel ceasing its military activities, Hamas can agree to negotiate for a two-state solution. It can agree to modify its charter (below) to make the offer of negotiations credible.

This agreement would have successful historical precedents:

  • Oslo Accords between Israel and PLO.
  • The Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.
  • Agreement between the Colombian government and FARC–EP.


Its Covenant is a comprehensive manifesto comprised of 36 separate articles, all of which promote the basic HAMAS goal of destroying the State of Israel through Jihad (Islamic Holy War).

The Hamas Covenant

The original, 1988 version of the charter emphasize four main themes:

  • Destroying Israel and establishing an Islamic theocracy in Palestine is essential;
  • Unrestrained jihad is necessary to achieve this;
  • Negotiated resolutions of Jewish and Palestinian claims to the land are unacceptable;
  • Historical anti-semitic tropes that reinforce the goals.

The Covenant proclaims that Israel will exist until Islam obliterates it, and jihad against Jews is required until Judgement Day. Compromise over the land is forbidden. The documents promote holy war as divinely ordained, reject political solutions, and call for instilling these views in children.

Hamas Charter - Wikipedia

Only after Israel's acceptance of the PLO as negotiation partner could serious negotiations start. In their Letters of Mutual Recognition of 9 September 1993, days before the signing of the Oslo I Accord, each party agreed to accept the other as a negotiation partner. The PLO recognized the State of Israel. Israel recognized the PLO as "the representative of the Palestinian people"; no more, no less.

Oslo Accords - Wikipedia

The Good Friday Agreement (GFA), or Belfast Agreement, is a pair of agreements signed on 10 April 1998 that ended most of the violence of the Troubles, an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that had prevailed since the late 1960s.

Good Friday Agreement - Wikipedia

The Colombian peace process is the peace process between the Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC–EP) to bring an end to the Colombian conflict, which eventually led to the Peace Agreements between the Colombian Government of Juan Manuel Santos and FARC-EP.

Colombian peace process - Wikipedia


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