Security officials ‘shocked’ by PM’s announcement of Gaza nonnegotiables — reports

Netanyahu said to have sent list of his hostage deal red lines to media without any input from negotiating team, as officials were about to start meeting over next stage of talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. (Jack Guez/Pool Photo via AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. (Jack Guez/Pool Photo via AP)

Security officials were caught off-guard on Sunday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly announced a list of “nonnegotiables” for the ongoing hostage negotiations with Hamas, Hebrew media reported Monday.

The prime minister’s list of red lines was distributed to the media just as officials convened for a meeting about the next stage of indirect talks with the terror group, without those officials knowing about the list or signing off on its publication, the reports said.

Two unnamed officials told Kan news they were “shocked” by the announcement, and reported that some of those present at the meeting assailed the prime minister for the move.

“Negotiations have to be conducted behind closed doors — not in press releases, and definitely not the moment before the start of a meeting to determine the next stage of talks,” sources familiar with the discussion told Kan.

An unnamed security official told the Ynet news site that the statement by Netanyahu’s office was “inappropriate conduct that will harm the chances of bringing the hostages back home.”

Israel has been negotiating on and off for months with Hamas for the release of the hostages held by the terror group since October 7, when thousands of terrorists invaded southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking 251 hostages, and sparking the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. Israel says 116 now remain in Gaza, many of them no longer alive.

Demonstrators protest for the release of Israelis held hostage in the Gaza Strip, outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, July 7, 2024. Photo by Itai Ron/Flash90

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

Over the weekend Hamas said it dropped its demand that Israel agree upfront to end the war, raising hopes for a deal, though it has also said it is seeking guarantees from mediators that the fighting will not resume.

In his statement on Sunday, Netanyahu listed as one of the “nonnegotiables” an assurance that weapons would no longer be smuggled into Gaza from Egypt.

Officials told Ynet that while the condition itself was not out of line with what is being discussed, the prime minister should not have spoken about such a delicate issue publicly at this stage.

“It endangers the discussions that are being conducted with Cairo, and negatively affects all the talks,” they said.

Netanyahu’s other demands included that any potential deal must “allow Israel to go back to fighting until all the goals of the war are achieved” and cannot allow “the return of thousands of armed terrorists to the north of the Gaza Strip.”

“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 statement also declared.

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.”

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.

File – Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet security agency, attends a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. (Chain Goldberg/Flash90)

In addition, US Central Intelligence Agency chief William Burns is expected to hold a four-way meeting in Doha this week with Mossad chief Ron Barnea, Egyptian intelligence head Abbas Kamel, and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

The statement from Netanyahu’s office was met Sunday 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.

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.

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.

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