Blinken to return to Israel next week, as US pushes Hamas to take hostage deal offer

US secretary of state will also visit Egypt and Qatar, who are mediating ceasefire talks; he’ll also attend a donor conference for the Palestinians in Jordan

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

File - US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken disembarks after landing in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, April 30, 2024. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)
File - US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken disembarks after landing in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, April 30, 2024. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel early next week, the State Department confirmed on Friday, as Jerusalem awaits Hamas’s response to the hostage deal proposal submitted last week.

Blinken will also travel to Egypt and Qatar who have served as mediators, along with the US, in the ongoing hostage talks.

The three-day tour kicking off on Monday will also include a stop in Jordan to attend an international donor conference for the Palestinians.

In each country, Blinken will discuss the need for Hamas to accept the hostage deal proposal that’s on the table, “which is nearly identical to one Hamas endorsed last month,” the US readout said.

Blinken’s eighth wartime visit could also follow a shake-up in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government with war cabinet minister Benny Gantz slated to give a speech on Saturday night in which he is expected to leave the government over Netanyahu’s refusal to present a plan for Gaza’s post-war governance. The US has reportedly sought to convince Gantz to hold off on the announcement until after Hamas provides its response to the Israeli hostage deal proposal that was presented to the terror group on May 30.

Convinced time is running out to secure a hostage deal and not wanting to go through the same motions in negotiations that have repeatedly ended in deadlock over the past six months, Biden chose a different strategy on May 31, giving a high-stakes speech in which he revealed key details of the Israeli proposal and called on Hamas to accept it.

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz, right, meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv, March 22, 2024. (Courtesy)

The speech was aimed at forcing Netanyahu to stand behind the proposal submitted by his negotiating team. The premier authorized the offer but had avoided going public with its exact details, fearing backlash from his far-right coalition partners. Those fears were warranted, as National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich have indeed gone on to threaten to topple the government if Netanyahu moves forward with the deal.

The move by Biden also placed the ball in Hamas’s court, as Washington has repeatedly highlighted that the Israeli offer is nearly identical to the one made by Hamas in the last round of negotiations.

The White House also reiterated Friday that it was awaiting an official response from Hamas to the latest proposal, with spokesperson John Kirby telling reporters that Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron would discuss the issue during a meeting on Saturday.

The three-stage Israeli proposal envisions a first phase truce lasting six weeks during which the remaining living female, elderly and sick Israeli hostages would be freed along with several bodies of those abducted on October 7. In exchange, Israel will release hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners; withdraw the IDF from Gaza population centers; allow the unrestricted return of Palestinians to all areas of the Strip; and facilitate the daily entry of 600 trucks of humanitarian aid into the enclave.

The main point of contention in previous rounds has been Israel’s insistence on being able to resume the fighting after hostages are released and Hamas’s refusal to free those it abducted unless Israel commits up front to a permanent ceasefire.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Middle East, from the State Dining Room of the White House, May 31, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In an attempt to bridge this divide, clause 14 of the Israeli proposal states that during the first phase, the parties will launch talks on the terms of phase two — a permanent ceasefire — that they will aim to conclude by the end of the fifth week of the initial truce.

If the sides don’t succeed in reaching an agreement within that allotted time, the phase one ceasefire can be extended indefinitely, so long as the talks on the terms of phase two continue.

However, if Hamas is found to violate its commitments under the deal, Israel can resume fighting.

If agreements are reached in the phase one talks, a six-week phase two can commence, during which Hamas will release the remaining living Israeli hostages, including young men and male soldiers. In exchange, Israel will release an agreed-upon number of Palestinian security prisoners — likely an even higher number than those released in phase one, including some of the most notorious terror convicts — in addition to the IDF withdrawing completely from Gaza.

During the six-week phase three, Hamas will release the remaining bodies of hostages it is still holding while Israel will allow the commencement of an internationally backed Gaza reconstruction plan.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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