Netanyahu said to reject negotiators’ bid to formulate new hostage deal proposal

Networks report PM upbraided team, telling them their offers ‘will lead to an end to the war’; Gantz said to retort: ‘It’s apparent you’re unhappy with their work, so replace them’

File - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Mossad chief David Barnea, April 18, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
File - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Mossad chief David Barnea, April 18, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday rejected proposals by Israeli negotiators for renewing indirect talks with Hamas for a hostage release deal, according to reports by major Israeli networks on Sunday.

The reports on Kan and Channels 12 and 13 said Netanyahu shot down the suggestions and upbraided the negotiating team, led by Mossad chief David Barnea, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar and IDF general Nitzan Alon, telling them “this is not how to run negotiations.”

Channel 12 reported that negotiators suggested drafting a new offer to present to the terror group that would address its desire for “sustained calm” in any deal.

According to Kan, Netanyahu said: “All these proposals will lead to an end to the war. We tried and made significant overtures. Hamas rejected everything.”

Channel 12 quoted war cabinet minister Benny Gantz as retorting: “It is apparent you are unhappy with [the negotiators’] work. If that is so, replace them and bring someone you trust and believe in.”

When Netanyahu responded that he “will not agree to any proposal that ends the war,” Gantz’s fellow party member, minister Gadi Eisenkot, was quoted as saying: “No one here wants to stop the war, but your position does not allow us to bring back the hostages. You’re not leaving the team with any possible path toward reaching a deal.”

A minister in the war cabinet told Kan, “After yesterday’s meeting it has become clearer that Netanyahu doesn’t want a deal” while others present said, “We saw the despair in the eyes of Nitzan Alon and his senior aide after the meeting. They seem to have come to a final realization that there will be no deal.”

Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon speaks at the Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv on January 28, 2019. (INSS)

Sources close to Netanyahu told the network that “the claims are untrue” and that the premier “is working around the clock to bring about the release of all our hostages.”

An unnamed senior official told Channel 13 the negotiations were at their lowest point since talks began.

The most recent round of hostage talks disbanded earlier this month and negotiations have yet to reconvene, with the sides unable to bridge the gap on the fundamental issue in the talks: Hamas is looking for a hostage deal that permanently ends the war triggered by its October 7 onslaught, while Israel is only willing to agree to a temporary ceasefire, as it aims to finish dismantling the terror group.

Head of the National Unity party Minister Benny Gantz holds a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 13, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The latest reports comes after Gantz on Saturday night issued an ultimatum to Netanyahu, demanding that he commit to an agreed-upon vision for the Gaza conflict that would include stipulating who might rule the territory after Hamas’s defeat, and warning that he would bolt the coalition should this not happen within three weeks.

The hostages were seized on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages, mostly civilians.

It is believed that 124 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 16 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 37 of those still held by Hamas, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Over the weekend the military recovered the bodies of four hostages, all of whom it said were killed on October 7 before being taken to Gaza: Shani Louk, Amit Buskila, Itzhak Gelerenter and Ron Benjamin.

Family and friends attend the funeral of Amit Buskila in Kiryat Gat, May 19, 2024. (Liron Moldovan/Flash90)

Pressure has intensified on the government to reach a deal to free the remaining hostages, with regular protests drawing tens of thousands of people to the streets demanding their rescue.

Monday was to see the latest of those protests take place throughout the country, culminating in a major rally at the Knesset in Jerusalem.

On Friday, Channel 12 quoted a senior member of Israel’s hostage negotiating team as saying that a decision by Netanyahu’s government to further expand the IDF’s operations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah would put hostages’ lives at risk.

Such warnings have been made by foreign officials, but this is the first time that they have been echoed — albeit anonymously — by a senior member of Israel’s own negotiating team.

Netanyahu and other members of his government have insisted that military pressure, such as the operation in Rafah, is what will coax Hamas into agreeing to an acceptable hostage deal.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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