IDF negotiator said to pan PM’s handling of hostage talks as they’re set to resume

As war cabinet meets, Netanyahu's office claims leaked comments from Nitzan Alon, reportedly pushing for Israeli concessions, are only helping Hamas harden its stance

Nitzan Alon at IDF Central Command headquarters in Jerusalem on March 25, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The Israeli military’s envoy to negotiations aimed at freeing hostages held in Gaza expressed hopelessness over the chances of reaching a deal with the current government at the helm, according to a report on Sunday, the latest in a series of apparently leaked statements broadcasting the IDF general’s frustration with Jerusalem’s refusal to move closer to Hamas’s position in negotiations.

The comments from Maj. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon to Israel Defense Forces officials involved in the hostage issue, published by Channel 12 news, came as Israel was preparing to re-enter talks for a long-elusive deal, with both internal and outside pressure on Israel to free the captives and halt its military campaign continuing to ratchet up. The report was swiftly panned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who complained the leak would only further entrench Hamas in its position.

“We are desperate,” the channel quoted Alon as saying last week in private conversation. “With the composition of this government, there will be no deal.”

According to the report, Alon told the military officials he was pushing for a deal that included the release of all hostages, though Hamas was insisting on an end to the war, a condition long rejected by Netanyahu, who has insisted that fighting continue until the terror group is destroyed.

Such an agreement, Alon argued, would not void the possibility of future military action against Hamas.

“I told the prime minister that it will be possible to return to fighting at any given moment,” he was quoted as having said.

A man looks at posters of hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in central Jerusalem, May 24, 2024. (AP/ Mahmoud Illean)

A representative for Alon denied that he had made any such comment, Ynet news reported, while the IDF responded that the comments had been taken out of context and insisted that Alon served loyally at the government’s pleasure.

“General Alon was asked a question by the public about the effect the political leadership has on the talks, and he answered that as one in uniform, he cannot answer such questions,” IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said Sunday night when asked about the report at a press conference.

According to a Ynet report late last week, Alon had recently pushed for the war cabinet to give the negotiating team more leeway once talks resume, lobbying for a mandate more in line with Hamas’s demands.

In a statement released shortly after the Channel 12 report Sunday night, Netanyahu’s office criticized the publication of the leaked comments, saying they “only harden Hamas’s position, harm families and delay the release of our abductees.”

“While Prime Minister Netanyahu time and again gave the negotiating team an extensive mandate to release our abductees, [Hamas Gaza leader Yahya] Sinwar continues to demand the end of the war, the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip and leaving Hamas intact, so that it can carry out the atrocities of October 7 over and over again,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Alon’s reported criticism echoed increasingly heated claims from the families of some hostages accusing Netanyahu and his government of blocking a deal due to what they describe as narrow political considerations or misguided hardline policies.

Many far-right politicians in Netanyahu’s governing coalition have indicated that they oppose dealing with Hamas or making concessions to free the hostages, with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir going as far as threatening to pull his Otzma Yehudit party out of the coalition over the issue.

At the same time, anti-government protests centered on the government’s inability to reach a deal have grown significantly in both size and ferociousness in recent weeks, reflecting deep-seated disappointment in the fact that Israel has been unable to recover its kidnapped after more than seven months.

Protesters call for the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza since October 7, outside the Defense Ministry Headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2024. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Israel launched its war against Hamas following the October 7 massacre, in which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists assaulted southern Israeli communities and military positions, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 252 others. It is believed that 121 of the hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, with the deaths of 37 of them confirmed by Israeli officials.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of slain IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Months of efforts to reach another deal have foundered under the mediation of Egypt, Qatar, and the US. Hamas’s insistence that any agreement include a permanent ceasefire ending the war is one of the main sticking points.

Other issues include the makeup and number of Palestinian prisoners to be freed in exchange for the hostages, freedom of movement for Palestinians back to northern Gaza after civilians fled south to escape Israel’s military campaign, and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Strip.

The war cabinet met Sunday night to discuss both the negotiations and the ongoing fight in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, thought to be Hamas’s last major stronghold, days after the International Court of Justice appeared to order Israel to halt or partially arrest its offensive in the city.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant attend a press conference at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Oct. 28, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

An Israeli source with knowledge of Netanyahu’s thinking told The Times of Israel Sunday that the army was being told to ease the campaign in Rafah, in deference to the hostage negotiations and under pressure from The Hague. The source said the military would continue to fight, but in a more restrained manner.

Indirect talks on a deal are set to resume on Tuesday, an Egyptian official with knowledge of the matter told CNN on Sunday.

A senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel Saturday that talks were set to resume this week after Mossad chief David Barnea, who is leading negotiations, returned to Israel following a meeting in Paris aimed at “building a foundation” for the resumption of talks

Barnea, CIA Director William Burns and Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani agreed to restart talks next week on “new proposals led by the mediators Egypt and Qatar, with active involvement of the US,” the official said.

During the Paris talks, Barnea presented Burns and al-Thani with Israel’s latest proposal and was briefed by the CIA chief on possible solutions for unspecified matters of contention in past rounds of talks, according to the official.

Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in a handout image published May 23, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

However, Hamas said Sunday it had not received any new proposal from negotiators. A statement issued by Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq said the group remained steadfast in its position demanding a “permanent and complete halt” to Israeli military operations “in all of the Gaza Strip, not just in Rafah.”

Visiting troops in Rafah on Sunday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel was “making tremendous efforts [to return the hostages] in every possible way, both physically and by reaching deals.”

“Our goal[s] in the Gaza Strip have sharpened here in Rafah — to eliminate Hamas, bring back the hostages and maintain freedom of action,” he said.

Mourners attend the funeral of Michel Nisenbaum, who was killed during Hamas’s October 7 attack and whose body was taken into Gaza, in Ashkelon, Israel, on May 26, 2024. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

National Unity party head Benny Gantz, who together with Netanyahu and Gallant make up the war cabinet’s voting triumvirate, insisted that Israel would not halt its campaign against Hamas, while leaving open the possibility it could be paused.

“The rockets shot from Rafah today prove that the IDF must operate in every place Hamas still operates from, and, as such, the IDF will continue to operate wherever necessary,” said Gantz, speaking after a volley of rockets fired from Gaza targeted Tel Aviv for the first time in some four months.

“Terrorist Hamas are war criminals, and we intend on making them pay for their crimes – whether sooner or later,” he said.

Emanuel Fabian and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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