A man looks on as Palestinians search for victims a day after Israeli attacks on homes in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza on Nov. 1. Credit: Mohammed Al-Masri/Reuters

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 columnist for The Washington Post, and a columnist for World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. See more reviews on CNN.

(CNN) -- The announcement that Israel and Hamas have reached an agreement to release some 50 women and children captured by Hamas during its brutal Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel in exchange for a four-day truce in the Israeli ground and air operation is the first positive development in six weeks for some relatives of the more than 200 people kidnapped by the radical Islamist group it rules Loop.


And it's certainly good news for Gaza's civilians, who will welcome other elements of the deal: an increase in the amount of humanitarian aid entering the enclave and the expected release of 150 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, three for every one of the hostages released, along with the possible extension of the truce by an additional day for every ten additional hostages.

However, the agreement is not a cause for absolute joy, either for the Palestinians or for Israel.

The war is not over. And arguably, the deal strengthens Hamas, allowing it to take credit, catch its breath and regroup. Regardless of how Palestinians feel about the organization that sparked this round of fighting, and we won't hear many in Gaza now openly criticize Hamas, there is no doubt that as long as this group remains in power, the future looks bleak for Gazans.

For Israel, this agreement has a bittersweet taste. Negotiating with a terrorist organization that has just massacred and brutalized more than 1,000 citizens of the country and remains committed to the destruction of Israel, repeatedly confirming that goal, is not only hard to digest, but is a moral and strategic dilemma of the first order.

Israel has done this before and paid a heavy price for it.

When Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit was taken hostage in 2006, the government ended up exchanging more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from its jails in exchange for their freedom in 2011. When the pale, thin Shalit finally left Gaza after half a decade of captivity, one of the men allowed out of prison in the deal was Yahya Sinwar.

Sinwar is now Hamas's political chief in Gaza, and is believed to be the mastermind of the Oct. 7 operation that killed some 1,200 people in Israel, more Jews than on any other day since the Holocaust.

Still, the decision to negotiate was the right one. Israel has a long tradition of going to great lengths to save individual citizens. Even if it ends up looking like a mistake in the arithmetic of war, with prisoners exchanged ending up killing more people than the number of Israelis freed in the exchange, making the painful deal is part of the nation's core identity.

The trauma of October 7 threatened to radically change that tradition. Almost every Israeli knows someone who died or was kidnapped, or someone who lost a family member or friend that day.

Israelis are becoming increasingly aware of the horror of that day. It wasn't just a massacre; It was a sadistic killing frenzy. Hamas fighters' own body cameras recorded Hamas fighters slaughtering entire families. Israeli investigators reported that they had seen the bodies of young children burned alive and mutilated corpses.

There are many reports of rape, and Israel is collecting evidence of sexual assaults alongside Hamas' own videotaped evidence of dismemberments and beheadings. Israelis are listening to the victims and their families. The whole country is in anger and grief.

It's not the kind of information that persuades a nation to seek negotiations with the perpetrators.

Worse, Hamas leaders have repeated their promise to continue their campaign, promising to carry out similar missions over and over again. And as Israel attempts to remove Hamas from power, the suffering of the people of Gaza, caught between Hamas and Israel, has become heartbreaking, adding to the painful moral choices of this conflict, the balance between life and security.

For some hardline Israelis, the time had come to change Israel's hostage calculus, to keep fighting, and to deny Hamas a break during which it will surely regroup, redeploy and become stronger. But their voices were drowned out by the force of the hostages' families. Within days of the attack, despite or because of their anguish, the families managed to organize themselves into a powerful political force.

Keep an eye on them. After the war, they will continue to be the spearhead when the Israeli people are likely to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under whose watch Israel suffered the worst day in its history.

Netanyahu's fate will not be alleviated by this deal, even if the overwhelming majority of Israelis support the decision. At the same time, they support the government's goal of fighting Hamas so that it can no longer threaten Israel. The two objectives are clearly in conflict. But such are moral dilemmas.

A man looks on as Palestinians search for victims a day after Israeli attacks on homes in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza on Nov. 1. Credit: Mohammed Al-Masri/Reuters

The war has been brutal, because Hamas has embedded itself among the civilian population, because Hamas has done nothing to build shelters for the people, building them only for its own fighters, and because a limited number of Palestinians have been allowed to flee the fighting to neighboring countries.

Egypt, which has fought militants in the Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel, is concerned about the sudden influx of large numbers of Palestinian refugees entering and turning Sinai into a staging ground for launching attacks on Israel, which could destabilize it. It is also concerned about the creation of a new long-term refugee population, whose return to Israeli-controlled territory would be uncertain.

Perhaps there is a way for Israel to fight Hamas with fewer civilian casualties; I don't pretend to know. But Israel could not allow Hamas, armed and financed by Iran, to remain in power on Israel's doorstep. It is not a Palestinian state. Hamas is not interested in two states, as it tells us over and over again. It wants to destroy Israel, and its charter suggests that any agreement that allows Israel to survive "is null and void."

Still, Israel had to negotiate.

For Israel, the events of October 7 brought echoes of the Holocaust. And it wasn't just because of the carnage. It was also because Hamas was founded in 1988 on a genocide pact. Hamas leaders still proclaim their anti-Semitic and genocidal designs. "O Allah, bring annihilation upon the Jews," a Hamas member preached a few weeks before the attack.

Imagine having to negotiate with those who, days after the attack, when asked if their goal is "the complete annihilation of Israel," replied "Yes, of course!"

Hamas continues to hold nearly 80 percent of the hostages. This whole process of negotiating a truce is emblematic of the terrible choices that have dominated this conflict since the day Israelis woke up to find thousands of Hamas terrorists breaking into their homes with orders to "kill as many people and take as many hostages as possible."

This news of the release of the hostages, and the pause in fighting, and the increase in humanitarian supplies, is a source of relief for many families, and a respite for millions of people. But it's not a cause for celebration. It is a sign of a profound moral dilemma that will continue to produce deep human suffering.

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