PM tells Biden envoy he wants deal ‘as long as Israel’s red lines are maintained’

Brett McGurk meets with Netanyahu and Gallant after Cairo summit; defense minister says IDF will withdraw from Gaza-Egypt border if solution found for arms smuggling

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets White House Middle East czar Brett McGurk in Jerusalem, July 10, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets White House Middle East czar Brett McGurk in Jerusalem, July 10, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told White House Middle East envoy Brett McGurk on Wednesday that he remained committed to a hostage release and truce deal, “as long as Israel’s red lines are maintained,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu has faced criticism in recent days for publicly issuing a list of “non-negotiable” demands amid the sensitive negotiations.

McGurk’s meeting with Netanyahu came a day after the envoy met with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who told McGurk that Israel could withdraw troops from the Philadelphi Corridor if a solution is found to arms smuggling, according to Gallant’s office. The corridor separates Gaza from its southern neighbor, Egypt, and Israel considers control of it vital to prevent arms smuggling into the Strip.

McGurk was accompanied at Wednesday’s Jerusalem meeting by US Ambassador Jack Lew, while Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer joined Netanyahu.

The meetings took place as Israel’s intelligence chiefs were in Doha for a four-way summit with American, Egyptian and Qatari officials mediating the negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

McGurk himself was in Cairo on Monday, along with CIA chief William Burns, to discuss with Egyptian and Israeli counterparts the truce-hostage negotiations and the future of Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Israel seized the Philadelphi Corridor and the Gaza side of the Rafah Crossing in early May, soon after the army launched its offensive in southern Gaza’s Rafah. Troops have since discovered at least 25 cross-border smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza.

A tank with an Israeli flag on it enters the Gazan side of the Rafah Border Crossing on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces via AP)

Egypt has refused to reopen its side of the crossing as long as Israel is in control of the other side. The crossing had been a major conduit of aid into Gaza, and its closure has complicated humanitarian efforts in the Strip.

“A solution is required that will stop smuggling attempts and will cut off potential supply for Hamas, and will enable the withdrawal of IDF troops from the [Philadelphi] Corridor, as part of a framework for the release of hostages,” Gallant told McGurk on Tuesday night, according to his office.

The statement added that Gallant told McGurk Israel wants to see Gaza’s Rafah Crossing with Egypt reopened, but “will not tolerate the return of Hamas to the area.”

Gallant also thanked McGurk “for his personal involvement and leadership on the hostage issue.”

Brett McGurk, White House coordinator for the Middle East (L) meets with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv on November 15, 2023, as US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew (R) looks on. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Army Radio reported on Monday that Cairo sent a message to Israel that if a truce-hostage agreement were signed, Egypt and the US would cooperate on building an underground barrier to prevent smuggling at Gaza’s southern border.

Talks mediated by the US, Egypt and Qatar have failed to yield a truce and hostage release since a weeklong ceasefire in November that saw Hamas release 105 hostages in return for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

The current round of talks is based on an Israeli proposal outlined by US President Joe Biden in a May 31 speech. The talks stalled in June, but a recent reworking of the agreement’s language has opened the door for renewed negotiations.

On Sunday, as talks appeared to be entering a critical stage, Netanyahu declared four “non-negotiables”: any potential deal must prevent weapons from being smuggled into Gaza from Egypt; allow Israel to resume fighting until all the goals of the war are achieved; prevent the return of thousands of armed terrorists to the north of the Gaza Strip; and maximize the number of living hostages Hamas turns over.

Netanyahu’s statement, made publicly to the media instead of at the negotiating table, reportedly shocked Israeli security officials, some of whom were said to assail the premier for “inappropriate conduct that will harm the chances of bringing the hostages back home.”

Demonstrators protest for the release of hostages in the Gaza Strip, outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 7, 2024. Einav Zangauker, mother of hostage Matan Zangauker, is standing in the cage with a slogan in Hebrew that reads: ‘Netanyahu, it’s in your hands.’ (Itai Ron/ Flash90)

Hamas on Monday slammed Netanyahu’s statement. The group accused him of “placing additional obstacles in the way of the negotiations” and appealed to mediators to interfere against the premier’s “psychological warfare.”

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Monday, Biden administration spokesperson John Kirby downplayed the statements from Netanyahu and Hamas, saying that if the White House thought there was no chance for a deal, it would not have sent McGurk and Burns to the Middle East.

It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive.

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