Israel’s national security adviser: Paris talks have created possibility of progress

National Security Council chief Tzachi Hanegbi speaks to Channel 12 news, February 24, 2024 (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright law)
National Security Council chief Tzachi Hanegbi speaks to Channel 12 news, February 24, 2024 (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright law)

National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi confirms that the war cabinet will be briefed in the next few hours by the Israeli delegation that has returned from Paris, and says that the negotiating team led by Mossad chief David Barnea has indicated that it did not return emptyhanded.

“From what I’ve heard in the last few hours,” Hanegbi tells Channel 12, “it will be possible to make progress.”

Hanegbi is speaking amid reports that the Paris talks have yielded an outline for a deal in which some 40 hostages would be freed in return for hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners during a six-week temporary truce in the IDF military campaign against Hamas.

Hanegbi says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s key principles for a deal, conveyed to the Paris talks, included that “any framework must deal with [the return] of all the hostages” — including those who are dead; that it must provide for “all women and children” to be returned at the start of the process; and that the agreement “can in no way be interpreted” as providing for an end to the war.

If it is the case that these terms did not lead the mediators to “fall off their chairs,” says Hanegbi, “then apparently it would be possible to progress.”

Regarding Israel’s determination to tackle Hamas in its last remaining stronghold, the southern city of Rafah, and US concerns about civilians sheltering there, Hanegbi says: “The Americans are with us, all in,” on the principle of destroying Hamas.

He says the four Hamas battalions in Rafah can and will be destroyed, and the IDF will get the order to act “when we are sure” this can be done without harming noncombatants.

Netanyahu told US emissary Brett McGurk this week that “this is possible and we will do it.”

He says US President Biden has made clear to Netanyahu that if Israel has a plan that addresses US concerns about the humanitarian crisis, then the US “won’t oppose an action in Rafah.”

“We will destroy all Hamas battalions — those in Rafah and any others that rise again,” says Hanegbi.

Asked whether Hamas will be given the option of surrendering, he says, “Yes, but that option will apparently be at the crescendo, at the very end.”

Asked about the possibility of “exile” for Hamas, Hanegbi, apparently referring to Hamas’s key leaders, says “First let them surrender… Exile or not? There’ll be an argument in Israeli society… First they’ll need to put down their weapons.”

Asked about Netanyahu’s stance on a Palestinian state, Hanegbi says Israel “does not want to rule over the Palestinians. They have to rule themselves.
But when they demand a state, we explain to them that a state means sovereignty.” He adds: “We will never allow foreign sovereignty in Judea and Samaria,” because Israel reserves the right to take any security action it needs to there.

As regards Israeli-Saudi normalization, Hanegbi says the US, the Saudis and Israel all want an agreement. But “Israel will not pay the price of a Palestinian state for a deal with the Saudis.”

An agreement remains possible, but as for the US political deadline of May-June, “it’s hard for me to predict.”

Hanegbi calls the two goals of the war — bringing home all the hostages and destroying Hamas — “holy.” There can be friction between them, “but ultimately each serves the other,” he says.

Hanegbi also says he expects the fighting in the north of Israel to “continue for months.”

The residents displaced from there will return to a situation where Hezbollah is not on the border,  either diplomatically or militarily, he says, adding that Israel gave the US mediator “all the backing” to achieve a diplomatic solution.

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