Israel says it’s studying latest Hamas response to Gaza ceasefire-hostage deal

Senior Israeli official says terror group’s updated proposal gives more room for a possible agreement but stresses gaps still significant, suggests Netanyahu’s office harming talks

Activists protest calling for the release of hostages held in Gaza, outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 3, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Activists protest calling for the release of hostages held in Gaza, outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 3, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel said Wednesday evening that it had received Hamas’s response to the latest truce-hostage deal outline, and would evaluate the document before replying.

A statement from the Mossad distributed by the Prime Minister’s Office said that mediators “have conveyed” to Israel’s negotiators “Hamas’s remarks on the outline of the hostages deal.”

“Israel is evaluating the remarks and will convey its reply to the mediators,” the brief statement added.

Hamas later confirmed that it had submitted its latest demands, issuing a statement that it is “eager to reach an agreement to stop the war, and our communication with the mediators continues.”

“We exchanged some ideas with the mediators with the goal of stopping the war and the full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip,” the terror group said, claiming that it is being flexible in its demands, while Israel is “trying to deceive and evade.”

In a later statement, Hamas said its Qatar-based politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh had spoken with mediators in Qatar and Egypt regarding the ideas being discussed. It added that talks have also been held with Turkish officials regarding recent developments.

“The movement dealt in a positive spirit with the content of the ongoing deliberations,” it said.

More than six months of negotiations carried out by mediators including the US, Qatar and Egypt have time and again failed to advance toward a deal that would see the release of the 116 hostages kidnapped on October 7 who are believed to remain captive in Gaza, a truce or ceasefire in fighting in Gaza, and the release of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners.

Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released for publication on July 3, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The current version of the deal in play is based on a proposal made public at the end of May in a speech by President Joe Biden, built on a three-stage long-term Israeli outline. Yet more than a month later, the negotiations appear to have made little progress.

On June 11, Hamas submitted its response to the Israeli proposal, which the US went on to slam for including dozens of amendments, including some that went back on clauses Hamas had already agreed to and others that were deemed beyond the pale. On June 12, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said some of its changes were “not workable.”

In the weeks that followed, mediators worked to bring Hamas down on some of its demands — even as the State Department last week for the first time said Hamas had “rejected the proposal on the table” — leading to the new response submitted Wednesday by the terror group. A senior Israeli official said the new response was positive enough to allow for the negotiations to move forward after several weeks of deadlock.

According to the Israeli official, the updated Hamas offer brought the sides closer to a resolution regarding Clauses 8 and 14 of the Israeli proposal. Clause 8 of the hostage-truce deal concerns the negotiations between Israel and Hamas that would be held during the six-week phase one of the ceasefire deal. Clause 14 deals with the transition between stage one and stage two of the deal.

Israel has sought to keep the wording in these two clauses vague enough to allow it to resume fighting against Hamas in Gaza if it chooses, while Hamas has sought to ensure that Israel will not be able to resume fighting once the sides agree to the initial six-week phase one of the ceasefire deal.

The senior Israeli official clarified there were still significant gaps to bridge before an agreement could be reached, despite Hamas’s relatively positive response.

The Israeli government must decide in the coming days whether to enter a new round of more detailed negotiations with the Qatari, Egyptian and American mediators.

If the government authorizes the Mossad-led negotiating team to enter such talks, the sides will still likely need another several weeks before a deal could be reached, the Axios news site reported, citing another unnamed senior Israeli official.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enters the Knesset plenum on June 24, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The first senior official said that although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was informed by the Mossad-led hostage negotiating team that the latest Hamas response was far better than the “non-starter” it submitted last month, his office chose to issue a statement in the name of an anonymous “security official” indicating that talks were stuck over Hamas’s insistence on a clause barring Israel from resuming fighting after the first phase of the truce deal.

Netanyahu’s office then waited several more hours before issuing a statement confirming that Israel had received Hamas’s latest response, the senior official said, appearing to accuse the premier of trying to harm the talks.

In its earlier statement, Netanyahu’s office said Hamas was continuing to insist in the hostage talks that a clause be included barring Israel from resuming fighting after phase one of the deal. Israel has sought to maintain a clause in its proposal that was written vaguely enough so as to allow it to resume fighting if it deems that Hamas is not abiding by the terms of the agreement.

“Hamas continues to insist on a principle clause in the outline that would prevent Israel from resuming fighting after phase one of the deal — something that is unacceptable to Israel,” said the initial statement attributed to a senior Israeli security official that Netanyahu’s office sent to some Israeli military correspondents.

The statement added that there were additional gaps that still have to be closed, but that Israel will continue applying military and diplomatic pressure on Hamas in order to secure the release of all remaining 120 hostages — which include four being held since before the current war.

Already last month, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel that the primary issue complicating negotiations is that Hamas is demanding an Israeli guarantee up front that it will agree to a permanent ceasefire.

A boy pushes a cart loaded with boxes of canned food in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on July 2, 2024. (Bashar TALEB / AFP)

A report in The New York Times on Monday which suggested that the IDF’s top generals believe that a permanent ceasefire is the best way to free the remaining hostages was quickly shot down by Netanyahu, who blasted the “anonymous sources” who spoke to the US outlet.

“I don’t know who those unnamed parties are, but I’m here to make it unequivocally clear: it won’t happen,” said Netanyahu on Tuesday in a (Hebrew) video statement. “We will end the war only after we have achieved all of its goals, including the elimination of Hamas and the release of all our hostages.”

During its murderous October 7 onslaught, Hamas and other terrorist operatives kidnapped 251 people from Israel, including a number of dead bodies, dragging them into Gaza. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of at least 42 of the 116 believed to still be held in the Strip.

Over the past nine months, 109 hostages have been released, seven have been rescued by the IDF and the bodies of 19 have been recovered by the military from Gaza, including three who were mistakenly killed by troops.

The internal debate in Israel over whether to prioritize the return of the hostages or the continuation of fighting against Hamas has intensified in recent months, including increasingly fiery mass protests around the country demanding Netanyahu reach a deal.

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