Op-ed: Day 249 of the war

If Hamas wanted to end the war, it would take the Israeli offer

As the US says, and the partially published terms indicate, there is an Israeli proposal on the table that would end the war for the return of all hostages. Hamas just doesn’t want it

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Rescued hostage Almog Meir Jan raises his hands in celebration as he is escorted from an IDF helicopter on arrival at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Rescued hostage Almog Meir Jan raises his hands in celebration as he is escorted from an IDF helicopter on arrival at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

This Editor’s Note was sent out earlier Tuesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

A Monday television report on the four-page Israeli proposal for a hostage release and ceasefire deal with Hamas revealed how far Israel has been willing to go in its efforts to secure the return of the 116 hostages held since October 7, as well as two Israeli civilians held there for a decade, and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014.

According to the Channel 12 report, which showed what it said was the Israeli document and quoted key sections of it, the Israeli proposal accepts Hamas’s demand that 150 Palestinian security prisoners serving life terms would go free, early in the deal, in exchange for five female soldiers held hostage, that Hamas would choose most of those life-termers to be freed, and that most of them would be allowed to return to the West Bank. Dozens of terrorists, released under the 2011 Shalit exchange but rearrested for further offenses, would also be freed in the first phase of the deal.

These terms constitute highly significant concessions to Hamas, as demanded in the terror group’s published May 6 document, that Israel was deeply reluctant to make, including because of the concern that Hamas expects the release of these large numbers of experienced terrorism orchestrators to spark a significant upsurge in West Bank terrorism.

The Prime Minister’s Office on Monday night claimed the Channel 12 account of the proposal was incomplete and misleading, and denied that Israel’s proposed terms involve ending the war before its declared goals, including the destruction of Hamas’s military and governance capacities, have been achieved.

Troops carry out operations as part of the raid to rescue four hostages in the Gaza Strip, released for publication on June 9, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

As published by Channel 12, clauses of the proposal do indeed appear to provide, in the first phase of the deal, for a “temporary cessation of military operations by both sides,” and, in the second phase, for the announced “restoration of a sustainable calm (cessation of military hostilities permanently) and its commencement prior to the exchange of hostages and prisoners.”

When announcing details of Israel’s proposal in a speech on May 31, however, United States President Joe Biden stressed that “If Hamas fails to fulfill its commitments under the deal, Israel can resume military operations.”

All of which would appear to indicate that, yes, Israel is ready to end the war in a bid to secure the release of all the hostages, with the US-declared caveat that the IDF campaign against Hamas can resume if the terrorists breach the deal. Moreover, that Israel has accepted Hamas demands that pose a substantive risk of a further front in the war being opened against Israel in and from the West Bank. But, finally, that even these terms have, to date, not been accepted by Hamas, which manifestly does not want to release all the hostages. It apparently believes its interests lie in ongoing fighting, the continued loss of life on both sides, the deterioration in Israel’s international standing, deeper division within Israel, and the potential for further progress in its strategic goal of destroying Israel.

As Biden and the US Administration have been saying, as the partially published text would appear to indicate, but as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been denying, there is an Israeli proposal on the table for a deal that would end the war for the return of all the hostages. Hamas just doesn’t want to take it.

How about overt influence?

Reports that the Diaspora Affairs Ministry has been funding a $2 million campaign to covertly influence US lawmakers and create a wider sense of American support for “Israel and its actions since October 7th” have made huge international headlines in the past week.

Indeed, The New York Times determined that this was the most important story in the world last Wednesday, affording it prime position on its website for several hours.

This on a day when, as a for instance, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, announced that “Nearly 5 million people are at risk of famine,” in Sudan, “a number we have never seen before,” and warned, “This is a preventable event, but we are running out of time.”

This, too, despite the fact that the Israeli influence campaign, according to the Times’ own reporting, “didn’t have a widespread impact.” As it elaborated, “The fake accounts accumulated more than 40,000 followers across X, Facebook and Instagram, FakeReporter found. But many of those followers may have been bots and didn’t generate a large audience, Meta said.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli takes part in Spanish far-right party Vox’s rally ‘Europa Viva 24’ in Madrid on May 19, 2024. (Oscar Del Pozo/AFP)

The Diaspora Affairs Ministry has denied involvement in what would appear to be a dumb, possibly illegal, and evidently ineffectual campaign.

If the ministry does have millions of dollars sitting around unused, perhaps it could allocate the funds to a competent, overt, Public Diplomacy operation, providing coherent, accurate, real-time information on the conduct of the war and its context. That might legitimately generate wider support, in the US and beyond, for Israel’s response to the Hamas massacre and continued holding of hostages. It would not change the world; it might nudge the needle a little.

Abandoning Gallant

Benny Gantz did what he believed was the right thing for Israel in joining an emergency war coalition days after Hamas’s October 7 invasion and massacre in southern Israel.

Crucially, he became one of the three key ministers stewarding the Israeli response — in the war cabinet alongside Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

For all that Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, the heads of the two far-right parties in Netanyahu’s coalition, battered away from within their own government at the handling of the war, it was the Netanyahu-Gantz-Gallant triumvirate that made the key decisions.

Announcing that his National Unity party was bolting the emergency coalition on Sunday night, Gantz, among other damning criticisms, accused Netanyahu of prioritizing his own narrow political needs — as in, keeping the far-right on board — over Israel’s national interests, deplored the prime minister’s lack of a strategy for replacing Hamas, lamented his failure to seize the chance for a vital US-led regional alliance against Iran, and denounced his insistent refusal, even at this hour of IDF need, to require that ultra-Orthodox Israelis gradually be required to perform military service. Gantz also demanded that Netanyahu agree to general elections this fall.

The trouble is that Gantz’s departure makes it even less likely that Netanyahu will stand up to the far-right, and even less likely that he will correct any of Gantz’s listed catalog of failures.

Furthermore, Netanyahu can afford to simply ignore Gantz’s demand for elections. The core, pre-war, right, far-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition held 64 seats in the 120-member Knesset. Temporarily boosted by Gantz for the past eight months, it has now merely returned to its original size, and can only be brought down from within.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) and Minister Benny Gantz (right) embrace, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at left, at a joint press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on November 11, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Presumably, from Gantz’s point of view, he concluded that he and his war cabinet observer colleague, Gadi Eisenkot, both of them former IDF chiefs of staff, were being ignored. The way he sees it, the sides are now clear; he will no longer be Netanyahu’s fig leaf.

But rather than increasing the political pressure on Netanyahu, the danger is that Gantz has simply walked away and left that third member of the war cabinet, Gallant, also a public critic of Netanyahu’s handling of the war, to battle the prime minister, and all those skewed priorities, by himself.

Most Popular
read more: