US expects Israel to commit to its hostage deal proposal if Hamas agrees

White House believes IDF has accomplished ‘most military goals in Gaza,’ Kirby says, while acknowledging Hamas still represents ‘a viable threat to the Israeli people’

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The US expects Israel to stick to the hostage deal proposal it made last week and accept the offer if Hamas consents as well, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on Sunday

“We have every expectation that if Hamas agrees to the proposal — as was transmitted to them, an Israeli proposal — that Israel would say ‘Yes,'” Kirby said in an interview on ABC News’s “This Week.”

The Israeli proposal for a hostage release and ceasefire deal was presented on Friday night by US President Joe Biden, who revealed that it had already been submitted on Thursday to Hamas via Qatar.

The US president laid out some of the proposal’s key elements in some detail and urged Hamas to accept it and the Israeli government to “stand behind it.”

The offer, he said, would “bring all the hostages home, ensure Israel’s security, create a better day after in Gaza without Hamas in power, and set the stage for a political settlement that provides a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

While Israeli officials have confirmed that the offer publicly laid out by Biden on Friday is in fact the proposal Jerusalem submitted, Israeli leaders have asserted that the war will continue until Hamas has been destroyed.

Although Biden said the deal would remove the terror group from power, and stressed that it was “no longer capable of carrying out another October 7,” the publicized parts of the offer did not specify how Hamas will be replaced as Gaza’s rulers.

US President Joe Biden announces a proposed ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza at the White House’s State Dining Room in Washington, DC, May 31, 2024. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Moreover, Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners have pledged to bolt the government if the premier gives a final okay to the proposal his war cabinet signed off on last week.

It could still well have enough support to pass the broader security cabinet, but National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has threatened to bring down the government, and Netanyahu has a history of backing out of deals he has made, due to fears of losing the support of his right-wing coalition partners he needs to remain in power.

Asked for the basis of Biden’s assertion that Hamas can no longer carry out another attack like the October 7 terror onslaught that started the ongoing war in Gaza, Kirby told ABC that it was “based on an accumulation of our own intelligence assessments across the intelligence agencies.

He stressed, however, that the US was “not saying that Hamas has been wiped off the face of the map.”

“We have not said that Hamas has no military capabilities,” Kirby said. “We have not said that they don’t still represent a viable threat to the Israeli people. Of course they do.”

“But they don’t have the military capabilities to do what they did on the seventh of October. From a military perspective only — as President Biden said — the Israelis have accomplished most of their goals in Gaza,” he asserted.

This gap between Hamas being unable to carry out another October 7-like attack and still representing a viable threat to Israel will likely lie at the heart of deliberations by Israel as to whether it will stick with the hostage deal proposal its war cabinet authorized last week.

Troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a photo released for publication on June 2, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

In an apparent effort to narrow that gap, Biden indicated Friday that Israel will have his support to continue pursuing Hamas’s leaders, even after the war is over.

“Israel will always have the right to defend itself against threats to its security and to bring those responsible for October 7 to justice,” he said.

This appeared to be part of a broader post-war approach to Hamas by the US, which seems reconciled to the terror group managing to limp on in some form.

However, US officials asserted to The Times of Israel earlier this month that the broader diplomatic initiative Washington is advancing would see the terror group marginalized in Gaza by alternative forces backed by America’s Arab allies.

Still not agreement on Rafah crossing

In an effort to advance regional cooperation in Gaza even as the fighting there continues, delegations from Israel and the US met with Egyptian officials in Cairo on Sunday in an effort to resolve a dispute over the enclave’s southernmost city of Rafah and its border crossing with Egypt.

IDF troops and tanks on the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Rafah Crossing has remained shuttered since the IDF took over control of the Palestinian side on May 7, and Egypt has said it refuses to reopen it to vital humanitarian aid so long as it is under Israeli control.

Until the crossing is reopened, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi agreed to a request from Biden to temporarily divert United Nations aid to the Kerem Shalom Crossing, near Rafah but on Gaza’s border with Israel.

Despite efforts on Sunday to reach an agreement that would allow the crossing to reopen, the issue remained unresolved,  Egypt’s al Qahera News TV reported.

According to the report, Egypt continued to demand that Israel withdraw before it agrees to resume normal operation of the crossing, and blamed Israel for aid not flowing from Egypt to Rafah across the border.

War broke out on October 7 when Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 252.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 35,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals. The toll, which cannot be verified, includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

294 soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and during operations along the Gaza border. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor was also killed in the Strip.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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