US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Tel Aviv for hostage negotiation talks following widespread reports that Hamas has received Israel’s truce offer ‘positively’. And yet, other statements suggest these talks are in reality just barely getting off the ground. Just before arriving in Israel, Blinken met with another key mediator in the process, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and admitted “there’s still a lot of work to be done.” Blinken also stressed Tuesday, “But we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and indeed essential. And we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it.”
The Israeli plan envisions a 2-month ceasefire, during which time there would be hostage/prisoners swaps in multiple phases, by the end of which all remaining Israeli and foreign captives would be set free. On Wednesday Hamas finally presented its more detailed response to the Israeli plan. “Hamas proposed a ceasefire to quiet the guns in Gaza for four-and-a-half months [or 135 days], during which all hostages would go free, Israel would withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip and an agreement would be reached on an end to the war,” Reuters writes. The proposed Hamas plan, which Israel now says it is studying intensely, would be implemented according to the proposed stages:
Phase one: A 45-day pause in fighting during which all Israeli women hostages, males under 19, the elderly and sick would be exchanged for Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas of Gaza and the reconstruction of hospitals and refugee camps would begin
Phase two: Remaining male Israeli hostages would be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners and Israeli forces leave Gaza completely
Phase three: Both sides would exchange remains and bodies
The above remains somewhat vague, and perhaps for good reason, given a key point of disagreement has centered on just who gets released from Israeli prisons, as we detailed earlier. During the initial weeklong truce last year, the list of names was negotiated at every phase which saw a new swap, and the deal wasn’t renewed precisely because of a breakdown over the list of names.
Israeli officials have balked at current Hamas efforts to free several mass murderers and assassins. For example, a top Hamas official has been cited in Israeli media as saying the following:
He mentioned two by name, including Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader seen as a unifying figure. Barghouti was arrested by Israel in 2002 and is serving five life terms for planning three terror attacks that killed five Israelis during the Second Intifada.
In addition to Barghouti, Hamdan named Ahmad Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, as well as Hamas prisoners and those from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization. Saadat is serving a 30-year sentence for his role in the 2001 assassination of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi.
NBC is meanwhile reporting that the Israeli government remains pessimistic about the reality of a deal being implemented. According to sources from PM Netanyahu’s office, Hamas has been demanding the withdrawal of all Israeli forces before an agreement is even reached, which has been a non-starter for Israeli negotiators.
“The fact that Hamas is asking for a cease-fire for Israelis to withdraw its forces, that’s something that Israel will never agree to,” the Netanyahu official told NBC.
But Netanyahu has consistently said that the operation will not finish until Hamas is wiped out. He has pledged “absolute victory” over Hamas which could in reality take many months if not years. According to fresh Wednesday reports:
Israeli PM Netanyahu told US Secretary of State Blinken that he cannot end the war without eliminating Hamas in Rafah, according to Israeli Channel 12.
#BREAKING: Defense Minister Gallant to the US Secretary of State in Blinken: “Hamas’ answer was formulated so that Israel would refuse it. Their position will lead to the continuation of the war, and our forces will reach other places in Gaza, soon.’
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) February 7, 2024
Additionally, some within the governing coalition are even talking about Jewish resettlement of the Gaza Strip after the war, and this remains a hot point of contention with Washington, which has condemned such rhetoric.