Report: Mossad tells mediators cabinet likely to okay deal

Optimism in truce-hostage talks: Mossad chief goes to and from Doha, Hamas briefs Hezbollah

Gantz tells Netanyahu his opposition party will back any responsible agreement, as Ben Gvir threatens to bolt government if deal goes ahead

Mossad chief David Barnea attends a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 5, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Mossad chief David Barnea attends a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 5, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Efforts to secure a ceasefire and hostage release in Gaza were gathering momentum on Friday as Mossad chief David Barnea traveled to and from Qatar for negotiations and Hamas briefed Hezbollah on its latest proposal.

Barnea arrived in Doha on Friday at the head of a slimmed-down delegation to discuss the future of the talks and arrived back in Israel later in the day. Following Friday’s talks in Doha, Netanyahu agreed to dispatch an Israeli negotiating team for follow-up discussions next week in Qatar, the premier’s office said. The statement stressed that “gaps between the parties” remain.

Meanwhile, Hamas informed its ally Hezbollah it had agreed to a proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza and the leader of the powerful Lebanese terror group welcomed the step, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Barnea’s trip came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Joe Biden that Israel would send a team to resume negotiations.

The Wall Street Journal cited an official familiar with the hostage talks who said Mossad officials had told mediators that they were optimistic the Israeli cabinet would accept the proposal currently under discussion.

Netanyahu’s decision to resume talks reportedly outraged the coalition’s far-right flank, which threatened to topple the government if the war ends. On Friday, opposition figure Benny Gantz was said to offer Netanyahu a safety net for any “responsible proposal.”

Hamas on Friday announced that it rejects the presence of foreign forces in Gaza, potentially derailing Netanyahu’s plans for the Strip’s postwar governance. According to Walla news, Barnea informed Qatari mediators that Israel rejects Hamas’s demand for a written commitment from mediators that the negotiations regarding the second phase of the ceasefire can extend indefinitely if needed. Officials say this is a key difference between the sides that has not been bridged.

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’s spy chief arrived in Qatar on Friday for the latest effort to free hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, almost nine months after the Gaza war was sparked when the terror group led thousands in an assault on southern Israel that left nearly 1,200 people dead and saw 251 kidnapped.

A handout picture released by the Lebanese Hezbollah press office on July 5, 2024 shows Hezbollah Chief Hassan Nasrallah (second right) meeting with a Hamas delegation presided by Khalil al-Hayya (second left) in Beirut. (Hezbollah Military Media Press Office / AFP)

Barnea met with Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.

Fellow negotiators, Shin Bet security agency chief Ronen Bar and Maj. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon, the IDF’s point person in the talks — both of whom are part of Israel’s high-level negotiating team — did not accompany Barnea, according to the report. Hebrew media reported that even lower-level Shin Bet and military officials did not join Barnea en route to Doha.

However, Barnea was joined by Netanyahu’s confidante Ophir Falk, the Walla news site reported.

Citing an Israeli official, the news site said that Falk has no role in the negotiations, and is seen by negotiators as Netanyahu’s “Kashrut inspector,” sent to keep tabs on Israel’s delegation. According to Walla, members of the delegation have even prevented Falk from entering a round of talks in Cairo.

Netanyahu has reportedly grown distrustful of Israel’s delegation after several instances in which negotiators briefed the press anonymously that the premier was blocking a deal.

The Prime Minister’s Office responded to Walla’s report, saying Falk was a member of Israel’s negotiating team and had attended all previous rounds of talks.

The White House said it welcomed Netanyahu’s decision to send a delegation on Friday.

The decision came after a Thursday phone call in which Biden urged Netanyahu to revive the talks. Walla quoted the US president as telling Netanyahu: “We believe there is a chance now” to bring the hostages home.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets senior Air Force leadership at the IDF’s Kirya HQ in Tel Aviv, July 4, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Hebrew media reported that Netanyahu decided to send the delegation in a closed-door session with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant before the Thursday night cabinet meeting.

At the meeting, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir reportedly expressed anger at the decision, saying it relegated the cabinet to nothing more than “a decoration.”

“I’m telling you, Mr. Prime Minister — if you make a decision alone, it is your responsibility, and you will also remain alone. I was not elected by half a million people to sit in the government while the heads of the security establishment make the decisions,” Ben Gvir said, according to the reports.

Asked by Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel if he was making a threat, Ben Gvir reportedly responded: “[I am] not making a threat. This is the reality. If you make decisions on your own, don’t expect me to prop up the government afterward.”

Ben Gvir was reported by Channel 12 news on Friday night to be demanding to see the proposed deal as it currently stands.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir attends a ceremony for the new Israel Prison Service chief at the National Security Ministry in Jerusalem. May 27, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Gantz said in a phone call with Netanyahu on Friday that his National Unity party would back up the government in passing a “responsible” truce-hostage deal, his office said.

Gantz, who joined the government soon after October 7, left the now-disbanded war cabinet in June, accusing Netanyahu of playing politics amid the battles. The former IDF chief is considered a leading candidate to succeed Netanyahu as premier.

In a Channel 12 survey Friday, 54% of respondents said the war had not ended yet because of Netanyahu’s political considerations, 34% said it was due to substantive and operational considerations and 12% weren’t sure.

Hamas meets with Hezbollah chief

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Hezbollah said in a statement on Friday that its leader had met in Beirut with Hamas’s deputy chief in Gaza, Khalil Al-Hayya, to discuss “the latest security and political developments” in Gaza and the latest ceasefire talks.

Reuters later cited two sources as saying that Hayya briefed Nasrallah on Hamas’s latest ceasefire proposal, and that Nasrallah had okayed the draft for his part.

Hezbollah has since October 8 launched near-daily attacks on Israel’s mostly evacuated northern communities, saying it is doing so in support of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Head of the National Unity party Benny Gantz announces he is leaving the government during a press conference in Ramat Gan, June 9, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Tensions with Hezbollah have soared in recent days, after a series of high-profile strikes Israel has carried out on the Iran-backed terror group. Hezbollah has responded with large numbers of missile and drone strikes, which have caused fires to burn across Israels’s north.

A Hezbollah official told Reuters that the group would stop fighting as soon as any Gaza ceasefire agreement takes effect, echoing previous statements from the group.

“If there is a Gaza agreement, then from zero hour there will be a ceasefire in Lebanon,” the official was quoted as saying.

Optimism about the deal appeared to be on the rise on Friday.

A source in Israel’s negotiating team, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was now a real chance of achieving agreement.

However, officials also told the Kan public broadcaster on Friday that people should curb their expectations of successful talks.

A Palestinian official close to the internationally mediated peace efforts said Hamas’s latest proposal could lead to a framework agreement if embraced by Israel.

He said Hamas was no longer demanding as a pre-condition an Israeli commitment to a permanent ceasefire before the signing of an agreement, and would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout a first six-week phase.

Palestinians inspect the damage and debris a day after an operation by the Israeli special forces in the Nuseirat camp, in the central Gaza Strip on June 9, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas (Eyad Baba / AFP)

“Should the sides need more time to seal an agreement on a permanent ceasefire, the two sides should agree there would be no return to the fighting until they do that,” the official told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Hamas on Friday said that the administration of the Gaza Strip is a purely Palestinian matter. “The Palestinian people… will not allow any guardianship or the imposition of any external solutions or equations,” it added.

Separately, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a group allied with Hamas, said it considered any attempt to deploy international or other forces in Gaza as “an aggression” and would consider any such forces to occupiers.

The statements appeared to be aimed at some of the plans that have been floated for Gaza’s postwar governance. These include management of the Strip by Arab allies of the US, such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

IDF troops operate in the Gaza Strip in a picture released on June 30, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Netanyahu has also advocated maintaining Israeli security control of Gaza while empowering local clans to attend to the Strip’s civilian affairs. Three officials have told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu’s “local rule” refers to individuals affiliated with the Palestinian Authority, which Hamas ousted from Gaza in 2007.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a fierce critic of Israel’s conduct in Gaza, was quoted by Turkish media on Friday as saying he hoped a “final ceasefire” could be secured “in a couple of days,” and urged Western countries to put pressure on Israel to accept the terms on offer.

Israel’s May proposal

The latest round of talks is based on an Israeli proposal outlined by Biden in a May 31 speech.

Talks subsequently stalled, but a senior US official on Thursday said Hamas’s latest response “moves the process forward and may provide the basis for closing the deal,” though “significant work” remained.

The US believed Israel and Hamas had a “pretty significant opening” to reach an agreement, the official said.

According to an 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.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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