Netanyahu: Jews 'will stand alone' if they must

Top ministers huddle as Israel expects Hamas to snub latest hostage deal offer

War cabinet discusses possible Rafah incursion, as reports say Sinwar will reject any deal that doesn’t explicitly end the war; Haniyeh: Proposal being studied in ‘positive spirit’

Hostages' families and their supporters calling for an immediate deal to release their loved ones block Begin Street in Tel Aviv, May 2, 2024. (Yael Gadot/Pro-Democracy Movement)
Hostages' families and their supporters calling for an immediate deal to release their loved ones block Begin Street in Tel Aviv, May 2, 2024. (Yael Gadot/Pro-Democracy Movement)

As the war cabinet convened on Thursday evening, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the assumption among the country’s leadership is that Hamas will officially reject the latest offer for a hostage and truce deal.

Channel 12 reported, however, that Hamas will avoid rejecting the latest offer outright to avoid being blamed for the deadlock and instead return with an amended proposal of its own.

The war cabinet was discussing that possibility and a potential start to the long-promised military operation in Rafah, even amid international pressure on Israel to avoid an incursion into Gaza’s southernmost city; calls by hostages’ families to choose either the continuation of the war or bringing their loved ones home; and a Hamas official’s warning that an assault on the city would collapse talks for a deal.

Meanwhile, Hamas’s chief in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, believes he can survive a military incursion into Rafah, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing Arab negotiators. “Sinwar is expected to reject any deal that doesn’t include a credible path to ending the war,” the report said.

The Arab mediators also said that Sinwar “believes that he has already won the war, whether he survives it or doesn’t, by opening the world’s eyes to the suffering of Palestinians and bringing the conflict to the forefront of global affairs.”

As Israel awaited a formal reply to what United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called its “extraordinarily generous” hostage-truce offer, Channel 12 news cited unnamed Hamas sources saying that Sinwar has three specific demands that the Egyptian mediators are currently trying to resolve, including with US assistance.

First and foremost, Sinwar, as he has done for months, is demanding a guaranteed end to the war. Specifically, he reportedly wants to “completely change” the clause in the proposal that provides for negotiations on a sustainable calm for Gaza to begin on the 16th day of the initial, 40-day phase of the truce. Instead, he wants “a written obligation for an unconditional end to the fighting,” the report said.

File: Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar speaks during a rally marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, in Gaza City, April 14, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel won’t end the war, and has indicated the military will enter Rafah regardless of a deal.

Second, Sinwar opposes giving Israel the right to bar certain Palestinian security prisoners with blood on their hands from the West Bank and instead send them to Gaza or exile, the report said.

And thirdly, Sinwar wants specifics regarding materials that won’t be allowed into Gaza for its reconstruction. Presumably, said Channel 12, this is to ensure that Hamas would be able to rebuild its tunnels and other military infrastructure.

In a call Thursday to Egypt’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said he “appreciated the role played by Egypt,” which along with Qatar and the United States is mediating the talks, and “stressed the positive spirit of the movement in studying the ceasefire proposal,” according to a statement on Hamas’s official website.

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller on Thursday said “there has not been any movement” in the talks in recent days, stating that Hamas was currently the obstacle to the deal.

“There is a proposal on the table that answers much of the demands that Hamas made in previous rounds of negotiations. Israel made a significant offer in this last proposal that went forward [in which] they compromised on many long-held positions that they had taken. It met many of the demands that Hamas had said they needed to agree to a deal, so we believe it’s now incumbent upon them to take the deal,” Miller said.

“Hamas is the only barrier to a ceasefire right now… and we were waiting for their response,” he added.

Multiple reports have indicated that Israel’s offer would see at least 33 civilian and sick hostages released in the first phase, followed by later stages that would establish a sustainable calm and possible full withdrawal of Israel Defense Forces troops.

The first stage of the deal, to last 40 days, reportedly involves a gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from parts of the Strip in order to allow the movement of humanitarian aid and the return of civilians to their homes.

A Palestinian man fixes tin sheets used for temporary sheltering on a road lined with destroyed buildings in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 2, 2024. (AFP)

The deal would reportedly entail Israel releasing many hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners, including terror convicts.

Even if Hamas accepts the deal unconditionally, it isn’t clear whether Israel will approve it. Far-right coalition parties have repeatedly slammed it as surrendering to the terror group’s demands and as an abandonment of the initial war goal of eliminating Hamas’s governing capabilities in Gaza, and they have openly threatened to topple the government if it is approved.

In Tel Aviv, dozens of protesters — led by residents of the evacuated Gaza-adjacent Kibbutz Be’eri and the relatives of hostages — blocked Shaul Hamelech Street near the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters where the war cabinet was slated to meet, demanding the government reach a deal. Protesters also blocked the nearby Begin Street later on in the evening.

Nearby, police arrested a 58-year-old suspect who allegedly attacked Netanyahu’s motorcade.

The war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, in which some 1,200 people were murdered in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, mostly civilians, amid acts of horrific brutality.

It is believed that 129 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 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 34 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas has also been 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.

Hostages’ families and their supporters call for an immediate deal to release their loved ones block Begin Street in Tel Aviv, May 2, 2024. (Yael Gadot/Pro-Democracy Movement)

With international pressure bearing down on Israel to end the war, Netanyahu declared that  Jews “will stand alone” if they must, in a meeting in Jerusalem with Holocaust survivors.

“If it is possible to get the help of the Gentiles, I am always in favor,” he said, after citing one of the survivors who warned that Jews should not pin their hopes for safety on “Gentiles who make promises.”

Netanyahu said that former US president Franklin Roosevelt refused to risk even one pilot to try to get in the way of the killing of Jews in Auschwitz, and alleged that former British prime minister Winston Churchill tried to get his air force to bomb the death camp, but was opposed by the military command.

“If we have to stand alone – we stand alone,” said Netanyahu. “If it is possible to recruit the Gentiles – great. But if we don’t protect ourselves, no one will protect us.”

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