Visiting CIA chief said to tell Netanyahu he still sees chance for deal with Hamas

Report says Israeli leaders responded that Hamas’s hostages-for-truce proposal ‘crosses all red lines’; senior member of terror group clarifies Hamas won’t budge from its terms

CIA Director William Burns testifies during a US Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 11, 2024. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
CIA Director William Burns testifies during a US Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 11, 2024. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

Visiting CIA chief William Burns told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders during talks Wednesday that he still sees an opportunity for a deal with Hamas, Israeli television reported.

According to Channel 12 news, Burns told his hosts that Israel should not regard the “end of war” as a “full stop,” but rather as a “comma” — to be followed by a process that could still culminate in normalization for Israel with Saudi Arabia.

In talks attended by Netanyahu, Defense Minister Gallant, Mossad chief David Barnea and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, Israel responded that Hamas’s proposal, received Monday night, “crosses all red lines in every parameter and is unacceptable,” the network said.

The Israelis also reportedly told Burns that Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar was pleased to see the US withholding weaponry from Israel and that this move further complicated the prospects for a deal. The report said Israel’s leaders consider the gaps between the sides on a possible hostage deal to be extremely wide, and therefore believe their focus needs to be on the continuing IDF operation in Rafah.

However, the report added, war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz, and his National Unity party colleague and war cabinet observer Gadi Eisenkot, were demanding that the cabinet take “strategic decisions” for the day after in Gaza before any widening of IDF operations in Rafah or elsewhere in the Strip.

Meanwhile, a member of Hamas’s political bureau said late Wednesday that the terror group would not agree to change its terms for a deal, although talks were still under way in Cairo aimed at pausing Israel’s offensive in exchange for some of the hostages abducted during Hamas’s October 7 invasion and slaughter in southern Israel that started the war.

Izzat al-Rishq (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In a statement, Izzat al-Rishq said the terror group remained steadfast to its position toward a hostages-for-truce proposal and stuck to its terms for it.

“Israel isn’t serious about reaching an agreement and it is using the negotiation as a cover to invade Rafah and occupy the crossing,” he claimed.

There was no immediate comment from Israel, which on Monday declared that the three-phase proposal presented by Hamas was unacceptable.

Just a few hours before Hamas’ latest statement, Washington continued to say the two sides were not far apart.

“We believe there is a pathway to a deal … The two sides are close enough they should do what they can to get to a deal,” US National Security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters.

The terms that Hamas said Monday it had accepted differ in numerous key aspects from a proposal that Israel approved and the US described as “extremely generous,” with officials in the terror group claiming the deal would yield an end to the war. Israel, however has said repeatedly that it will not accept a deal that involves ending the war and that it fully intends to resume its campaign to destroy Hamas once any deal has been carried out.

Among the differences: The Hamas proposal would see the release of 33 Israeli hostages, alive or dead, whereas the Israeli text requires the release of 33 living hostages; the Hamas proposal removes the veto Israel demanded on the release of certain Palestinian security prisoners, and raises the number of Palestinian security prisoners to be freed; the Hamas proposal provides for the free movement of Gazans back to the north of the Strip, without security checks as required by Israel to prevent Hamas gunmen returning.

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires a shell from a border position in southern Israel toward the Gaza Strip on May 8, 2024, amid the ongoing war with Hamas. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The Hamas proposal also changes the timing of hostage releases within the phases, and some of the specifics on Israeli troop withdrawals. It also demands the release of all Palestinian security who were freed in the 2011 Shalit prisoner deal and have since been re-arrested.

Significantly, Hamas said on Monday night that it regards itself as having accepted terms for an end to the war, whereas both the Israeli-backed text and the Hamas response refer to restoring “sustainable calm.” In an introductory paragraph, the Hamas text says the “framework agreement aims for … a return to sustainable calm in a way that achieves a permanent ceasefire.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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