Israeli negotiator: New proposal a 'significant breakthrough'

Israel sends delegation to renewed hostage-truce talks in Doha on Hamas proposal

Biden tells Netanyahu he welcomes ‘effort to close out the deal’; Mossad chief David Barnea heading up team for talks in Doha Friday; Gallant tells families deal ‘closer than ever’

Activist hold a protest calling for the release of hostages held in Gaza, outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 4, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Activist hold a protest calling for the release of hostages held in Gaza, outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 4, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The security cabinet convened on Thursday evening as Israel approved sending a delegation to renewed hostage release and ceasefire talks, a day after Hamas submitted its latest amendments to the current proposed deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu updated United States President Joe Biden about the decision to send negotiators to the talks in a phone call between the two leaders on Thursday.

In a meeting with his negotiators ahead of the decision, Netanyahu “stressed again that the war will end only after achieving all of its goals, and not one moment earlier,” according to an Israeli official.

In his call with Biden, Netanyahu reiterated the same commitment to Israel’s war goals, according to the Israeli readout. A readout of the conversation issued by the White House said Biden welcomed “the prime minister’s decision to authorize his negotiators to engage with US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators in an effort to close out the deal.”

Israel’s hostage negotiating team headed by Mossad chief David Barnea will travel to Qatar for meetings with mediators, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

Barnea will meet Friday with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani to try and build off of the updated hostage-ceasefire deal proposal Hamas submitted Wednesday, the Israeli official said.

Mossad chief David Barnea at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 12, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The security cabinet meeting on Thursday evening was slated to discuss Israel’s position in the indirect negotiations. Senior Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, have expressed optimism around chances for a deal over the past day.

A report in the Ynet news site cited security officials suggesting that Netanyahu himself is in favor of a deal, but is concerned that the far-right elements of his government, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, could attempt to torpedo any agreement.

An unnamed source in the Israeli negotiating team told Reuters on Thursday evening that the latest Hamas proposal “includes a very significant breakthrough.”

“It can serve to advance negotiations. There’s a deal with a real chance of implementation. Though the clauses are not easy, they shouldn’t scupper the deal,” the official said.

A senior US official told reporters on a conference call on Thursday that Hamas made a pretty significant adjustment in its position, expressing hope that it would lead to a pact that would be a step to a permanent ceasefire.

“We’ve had a breakthrough,” the official said, adding that there were still outstanding issues related to implementation of the agreement and that a deal was not expected to be closed in a period of days.

The US official said Biden was encouraged that Netanyahu was authorizing his team to join the talks. Their call lasted 30 minutes, and the two leaders used the time to walk through the draft agreement on the table, he said.

“We do believe there is a pretty significant opening here, and we welcome the prime minister’s readiness to try to seize that opening by empowering his negotiating team to engage directly” in Doha here over the coming days,” the official said.

The current version of the deal in play is based on a proposal made public at the end of May in a speech by Biden, built on a three-stage long-term Israeli outline that would ultimately lead to the end of the war and the release of all the hostages.

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, in exchange for a truce in fighting and the release of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the IDF Northern Command HQ in Safed, July 28, 2024. (Shachar Yurman/Defense Ministry)

According to Channel 12 news, Gallant on Wednesday told families of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza that Israel is “closer than ever” to closing a deal to secure their release.

“A month ago I was pessimistic about our chances of reaching a deal anytime soon. One of my prime goals in all of my meetings in the United States was to put pressure on Hamas to come to a deal with the understanding that there’s not going to be a better deal,” Gallant was quoted as saying. “Today, and I’m saying this cautiously, we’re closer than ever.”

A senior Israeli official said on Wednesday that the latest response from Hamas 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 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 of the 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.

For his part, the senior Biden administration briefing reporters on the Biden-Netanyahu call said Hamas’s latest response addressed some of the disputes between the sides regarding the transition from the phase one temporary ceasefire to the phase two permanent ceasefire.

The US official acknowledged that Hamas had been seeking a one-phase ceasefire deal that would’ve left the terror group in power — something that Israel would not accept. Hamas has now moved closer to accepting the three-phase framework that the mediators have long sought to advance, the official said, indicating that the staged structure might lead to the terror group no longer retaining power in Gaza.

During the first phase of the deal — a temporary six week truce — the sides will negotiate the terms of the second phase — a permanent ceasefire. These terms are expected to include the establishment of a temporary governing body in Gaza, which US has said Hamas cannot be a part of.

Troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released for publication on July 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Hamas confirmed on Wednesday evening 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.

Nevertheless, on Thursday, Hamas spokesman in Lebanon Ahmed Abdel Hadi told the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese al Mayadeen satellite news station that “Netanyahu does not want a ceasefire.”

“We do not trust Netanyahu or the US administration. We trust the resistance, our people, and the support fronts,” he said, a reference to other Iran-backed terror groups including Hezbollah in Lebanon. “By monitoring Netanyahu’s statements, we can notice the contradiction, and this confirms that Netanyahu is not serious about reaching an agreement.”

He said Hamas is “dealing objectively,” and vows to “continue the resistance if an agreement is not reached, and if an agreement is reached, that is excellent.”

“We were told by the mediators that the atmosphere is positive and that an agreement can be reached,” he added.

Protesters near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem call for early elections, July 4, 2024. (Pro-Democracy Movement/Marcelo Sznaidman)

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.

Thousands of protesters calling for a hostage release deal marched to the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on Thursday evening, holding up a large banner reading, “Netanyahu is endangering the security of Israel” and calling for an election to replace him.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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