In DC, Gallant insists Israel committed to returning all hostages

Israeli, Arab officials say Netanyahu support for ‘partial’ deal harms hostage talks

Senior Arab diplomat says PM validated Hamas concern Israel will only carry out phase one of truce before finding excuse to resume war, while remainder of hostages will be left in Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Channel 14 in the first interview he has given to an Israeli news outlet since October 7, on June 23, 2024. (Screenshot, Channel 14, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Channel 14 in the first interview he has given to an Israeli news outlet since October 7, on June 23, 2024. (Screenshot, Channel 14, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim on Sunday night that he only supports a partial hostage deal with Hamas — so that Israel can resume fighting against the terror group after female, elderly and sick hostages are released — has caused harm to negotiations, a senior Arab diplomat from one of the mediating countries told The Times of Israel on Monday.

The diplomat said that Hamas has long expressed its concern that Israel will only carry out phase one of the deal before finding a way to resume fighting, rather than continuing to phase two, during which Israel is supposed to permanently withdraw from the Strip in exchange for the remaining living hostages.

The senior Arab diplomat said Netanyahu had vindicated Hamas’s concerns with his remarks in an interview with Channel 14 on Sunday.

On Monday, during a Knesset debate, the premier seemed to walk back his comments, claiming that he was “committed to the Israeli [ceasefire] proposal welcomed by [US] President Biden.”

Netanyahu’s statement on the hostage release and ceasefire proposal appeared to contradict the TV interview, in which he had said he was “prepared to do a partial deal… that would return some of the people to us,” while being “obligated to continue the fighting after a pause in order to complete our goal of destroying Hamas.”

The Arab diplomat said the outstanding issue in the talks remains Hamas’s demand that Israel commit up front to a permanent ceasefire.

Demonstrators protest, calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip, in Jerusalem on June 22, 2024. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Qatari mediators in particular reached out their Mossad counterparts demanding clarification, Axios reported, noting Doha was enraged, given that it was in the midst of trying to bridge gaps between the sides when Netanyahu made the comments to Channel 14.

Also Monday, an Israeli source with knowledge of the negotiations with Hamas told Channel 12 that Netanyahu’s comments on backing only a “partial” deal “caused damage that will be very difficult to fix and at terrible timing — when all pressure was directed at [Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya] Sinwar.

“His statement was actual sabotage. It’s difficult to see how we can reach a deal in the near future. It’s ‘game over’ for a deal,” the source said, adding: “He’s giving up on releasing the abducted soldiers and on the chance to try to first bring home the women, female soldiers, and the elderly.”

The Israeli proposal, announced by Biden in late May, provides for a six-week ceasefire in the first phase of the deal, to be extended into “a sustainable calm (cessation of military operations and hostilities permanently)” in the second phase.

However, Netanyahu has repeatedly denied that the Israeli proposal provides for ending the war before Israel achieves its two declared goals of destroying Hamas and bringing home all the hostages.

Hamas kidnapped 251 people on October 7, when thousands of terrorists led by the group stormed southern Israel to kill some 1,200 people, sparking the war in Gaza. It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, though dozens of them are thought to be dead.

In its response to the proposal announced by Biden, the Palestinian terror group has come back with its own demands, and the United States hopes the gaps can be bridged.

US President Joe Biden announces a proposed ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza at the White House’s State Dining Room in Washington, DC, May 31, 2024. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Hamas said in a statement Sunday that Netanyahu’s comments showed that he’s not actually prepared to stand behind the Israeli proposal Biden presented last month.

Netanyahu was also lambasted by the Hostage Family Forum, which accused him abandoning the remaining hostages by walking back from the proposal he had privately signed off on.

Later Monday, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller suggested that Netanyahu misspoke in the Channel 14 interview, and noted the premier’s subsequent statements walking back the claim.

“I think all of us who speak publicly at times make mistakes… and when we do so we have an obligation to come and clarify, and we’re glad he did,” Miller said.

But he also came out strongly against Netanyahu’s plan to “continue mowing the lawn” in Gaza after the war against Hamas ends.

“Continued military engagement in Gaza [is] just a recipe for continued conflict, continued instability, and continued insecurity for Israel,” Miller said when asked about the TV interview.

“It is obviously extremely harmful to the people of Gaza who want to be able to rebuild their lives and rebuild their homes and want to be able to chart a different future,” he said.

“But we also think continued military action in Gaza just makes Israel weaker. It makes it harder to achieve a resolution in the north, it adds to instability in the West Bank, it makes it harder for Israel to normalize relations with its neighbors. That’s why we will continue to put forward what we believe is an alternative path that actually helps Israel’s security, not one that weakens it,” Miller added.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday vowed during a visit to Washington to work to bring back hostages from Gaza, and urged close cooperation with the United States after strains in the relationship.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) meets US special envoy Amos Hochstein in Washington DC, June 24, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Gallant met with CIA chief Bill Burns, the key US point-man in negotiations to free hostages from Hamas, and later went into talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“I would like to emphasize that it is Israel’s primary commitment to return the hostages, with no exception, to their families and homes,” Gallant said before starting his meetings.

“We will continue to make every possible effort to bring them home,” he said.

Anti-Israel protesters outside the State Department ahead of Gallant’s visit held Palestinian flags and signs calling the defense minister a “war criminal.” International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Khan requested arrest warrants for Gallant and Netanyahu, along with top Hamas leaders, but a decision has not yet been made on the matter.

Anti-Israel protestors demonstrate outside the State Department in Washington DC, June 24, 2024, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Netanyahu, who has faced major protests calling for him to accept the deal, in recent days has frustrated the Biden administration by accusing Washington of cutting back arms and ammunition deliveries.

Gallant took a different tack, saying, “The alliance between Israel and the United States, led by the US over many years, is extremely important.”

Other than Israel’s own military, “our ties with the US are the most important element for our future from a security perspective,” he said.

Biden withheld one shipment of heavy bombs over concerns Israel would use in the densely populated southern Gaza city of Rafah, but the White House says all other shipments have continued at a normal pace.

Gallant is also expected to meet in Washington with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, senior White House official Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein, who is focusing on tensions over Lebanon.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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