PM insists Israel be allowed to resume combat

Netanyahu issues list of 4 ‘nonnegotiable’ demands as hostage talks slated to restart

Security officials, mediators accuse PM of intentionally sabotaging deal by highlighting gaps in positions ahead of delegation’s departure to Cairo and Doha this week

Demonstrators protest for the release of  hostages in the Gaza Strip, outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 7, 2024. Einav Zangauker, the mother of hostage Matan Zangauker, is standing in the cage at left. The slogan on the cage reads, 'Netanyahu, it's in your hands.' (Itai Ron/ Flash90
Demonstrators protest for the release of hostages in the Gaza Strip, outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 7, 2024. Einav Zangauker, the mother of hostage Matan Zangauker, is standing in the cage at left. The slogan on the cage reads, 'Netanyahu, it's in your hands.' (Itai Ron/ Flash90

Ahead of the Israeli negotiating team’s departure for further hostage deal talks in Cairo and Doha later this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented a list on Sunday evening of what he said were four nonnegotiable Israeli demands, including a guarantee that Israel could resume fighting, which would need to be met in any hostage release and ceasefire deal with Hamas.

Netanyahu’s statement, at a crucial phase ahead of the resumption of talks, sparked anger, both in Israel and among mediators, with some accusing him of attempting to sabotage hard-won progress.

The renewed negotiations in both Egypt and Qatar come after the Hamas terror group said on Saturday that it was ready to discuss a hostage deal and an end to the war in Gaza without an upfront commitment by Israel to a “complete and permanent ceasefire.” That statement constitutes a shift in the position Hamas has held in all previous negotiations since November.

Hamas’s altered stance regarding the US-backed proposal for a phased truce and hostage exchange deal in Gaza could potentially pave the way for the first pause in fighting since November, although all sides have cautioned that a deal is still not guaranteed.

The list of four demands presented Sunday by the Prime Minister’s Office declared that:

1. “Any deal will allow Israel to return to fighting until its war aims are achieved.”

2. “Weapons smuggling to Hamas from the Gaza-Egypt border will not be possible.”

3. “The return of thousands of armed terrorists to the northern Gaza Strip will not be possible.”

4. “Israel will maximize the number of living hostages who will be returned from Hamas captivity.”

“The plan that has been agreed to by Israel and that has been welcomed by President Biden will allow Israel to bring back hostages without infringing on the other objectives of the war,” the prime minister’s statement also declared.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a debate at the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, June 24, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Acknowledging Hamas’s backing down from its demand for an upfront Israeli commitment to end the war and its return to the negotiating table, the statement attributed the change to “the prime minister’s firm position against attempts to stop the IDF’s ground operation in Rafah.”

Speaking to AFP on Sunday, an unnamed senior Hamas official confirmed the terror group was no longer seeking an upfront commitment to a complete ceasefire, and explained that “this step was bypassed, as the mediators pledged that as long as the [hostage negotiations continued, the ceasefire would continue].”

On Friday, Walla news reported that Mossad chief David Barnea, Israel’s lead negotiator, who made a brief trip to Doha that day for talks with the Qatari mediators, had rejected the demand for a written commitment from mediators regarding the subject, although Axios subsequently reported that Washington was working on a solution to the disagreement.

Israel has said that there were still “gaps” in Hamas’s response to the proposed deal — the details of which Netanyahu’s office appeared to publicize in its statement — but all sides are expected to step up negotiating efforts in the coming days.

An Israeli delegation led by Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar left for Cairo on Monday. Talks there were expected to address the issue of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, including smuggling issues.

Four-way summit

An official with knowledge of the mediation said on Sunday that US Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns was expected to visit Qatar this week, and an Egyptian source said he would be making a stop in Cairo.

During his visit to Doha, Burns will reportedly hold a four-way meeting with Barnea, Egyptian intelligence head Abbas Kamel, and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

Turkey is also expected to step up its efforts to push for a deal, the Hamas official told AFP, but did not elaborate on what that would entail.

Speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, two Hamas officials with knowledge of the talks said that the terror group was waiting for Israel’s response to its submitted amendments, while another said Israel was in talks with Qatar, and a response would be forthcoming within days.

CIA chief William Burns, Egyptian intel chief Abbas Kamel, Mossad chief David Barnea and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani. (Collage/AP/AFP)

Undermining truce efforts

The statement from Netanyahu’s office was met with anger by Israeli security officials and mediators, who, not for the first time, accused the prime minister of trying to sabotage the deal.

“Netanyahu pretends that he wants a deal, but is working to torpedo it,” an anonymous security official told Channel 12. “He’s dragging out the process, trying to stretch time until his speech in Congress [on July 24] and then the [Knesset] recess.”

According to the security official, there was “no enthusiasm or drive” on the prime minister’s part to finalize a deal for the hostages’ release, and instead of discussions being driven by urgency, they were instead built on “smears and radicalized positions.”

A second source questioned Netanyahu’s desire to “emphasize the gaps” in the negotiations “just before the departure of the delegation,” Channel 12 reported.

Protester at a demonstration calling for elections and a hostage deal outside military headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 7, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid similarly slammed Netanyahu, asking rhetorically what the point of his statement had been.

“I have one response to the announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office: What is it good for? We are at a critical moment in the negotiations, the lives of the hostages depend on it; why issue such provocative messages?” Lapid asked. “How does it contribute to the process?”

A senior official from one of the countries mediating between Israel and Hamas also accused Netanyahu of trying to sabotage the deal.

The senior official, speaking to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, said that the nonnegotiable demand to resume fighting after the first stage of the ceasefire and hostage release deal publicized by Netanyahu’s office hit at the most sensitive aspect of the ongoing negotiations, as Hamas is seeking assurances from the mediators that Israel will not resume fighting after the initial phase.

The official said the mediators had succeeded in bringing Hamas down from an earlier demand for an upfront commitment from Israel to end the war upon the start of the first stage of the agreement.

They have instead kept in place relatively open-ended language regarding the transition from phase one to phase two that allows both Israel to feel comfortable enough that it has the ability to resume fighting if Hamas ceases to negotiate in good faith and Hamas to feel comfortable enough that the mediators will prevent Israel from resuming the war instead of implementing the permanent ceasefire that is stage two of the deal.

“Statements like the one made by the prime minister severely harm efforts to maintain that ambiguity,” the senior official from the mediating country said.

“One cannot help but conclude that they are being made for purely political purposes,” the official added, referencing Netanyahu’s desire to appease far-right coalition partners who oppose the hostage deal under discussion.

The Israeli-drafted outline for a hostage deal and truce in Gaza that Biden presented at the end of May proposed a phased deal that would include a “full and complete” six-week ceasefire that would see the release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, and the wounded, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners.

During these 42 days, Israeli forces would also withdraw from densely populated areas of Gaza and allow the return of displaced people to their homes in northern Gaza.

Over that period, Hamas, Israel, and mediators would also negotiate the terms of the second phase that could see the release of the remaining male hostages, both civilians and soldiers, in return, Israel would free additional Palestinian security prisoners and detainees. The third phase would see the return of any remaining hostages, including bodies of dead captives, and the start of a years-long reconstruction project.

A Hamas source told Reuters over the weekend that the proposal ensures that mediators would guarantee a temporary ceasefire, aid delivery, and withdrawal of Israeli troops, as long as indirect talks continue to implement the second phase of the agreement.

Displaced Palestinians carry belongings as they walk in front of a destroyed building in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on July 7, 2024. (Eyad BABA / AFP)

Hamas also expects up to 400 trucks of humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip each day of the pause in fighting, an official from the terror group told AFP.

Negotiations mediated by Qatar, Egypt and the US have so far failed to secure a truce in Gaza and release of captives there, since a weeklong ceasefire in November saw Hamas free 105 hostages in return for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel believes 116 people remain in Hamas captivity following the October 7 terror onslaught, though dozens of those are no longer alive. Hamas is also believed to hold the bodies of two soldiers killed in 2014, as well as two civilians, presumed alive, who entered the Strip of their own accord not long after.

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