War cabinet said to disagree over Hamas demand to end war in hostage deal

Netanyahu reportedly believes it would be ‘surrender’ to terror group; Israel said to show ‘willingness to be flexible’ on number of living hostages to be released in first stage

The Israeli war cabinet and top security officials meet in Tel Aviv on April 14, 2024, hours after Iran's missile and drone attack on Israel. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)
The Israeli war cabinet and top security officials meet in Tel Aviv on April 14, 2024, hours after Iran's missile and drone attack on Israel. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)

The war cabinet disagrees over Hamas’s demand that Israel end the war as part of a hostage deal, with some ministers believing that there is room for negotiation on the matter while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees it as tantamount to surrendering to the terror group, it was reported Tuesday.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the premier and allied officials believe that agreeing to such a demand would be “surrendering to Hamas.”

However, an Israeli official involved in the negotiations told the Kan public broadcaster that the potential renewal of talks would be “the last chance to bring back the hostages and make a deal.”

“Both [Israel] and the mediators understand this. If there is no deal, the IDF will enter Rafah and the hostages will not be released,” the official said, apparently referring to the prospect of Israel broadening its operation in the southern Gaza city.

“In the meantime, the hostages are dying, and it could get worse,” the official said.

Channel 12 reported Tuesday that Western officials had told Israel that it should test Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar’s response to a potential proposal that would include a long-term ceasefire, the reconstruction of Gaza, a governing mechanism for the Strip that does not involve the terror group, and the exile of its leaders.

Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters upon his arrival at a meeting in a hall on the sea side of Gaza City, on April 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

The officials have told Israel that Hamas already understands it will not control the Gaza Strip at the conclusion of the war, but Netanyahu was not prepared to discuss such a scenario, the report said.

Over the weekend, Mossad chief David Barnea presented CIA Director William Burns and Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani with Israel’s proposal for a deal and was briefed by the CIA chief on possible solutions for unspecified points of contention in past rounds of talks.

The war cabinet then met Sunday night to discuss both the negotiations and the ongoing fighting in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, thought to be Hamas’s last major stronghold, days after the International Court of Justice appeared to order Israel to halt or partially stop its offensive in the city in an ambiguous ruling.

Palestinians flee the area of Tal al-Sultan in Rafah with their belongings on May 28, 2024. (Eyad Baba/AFP)

According to Axios, Israel then presented an updated version of its proposal to the US, Egypt and Qatar on Monday.

A source told the outlet that the proposal included “a willingness to be flexible” on the number of living hostages to be released in the first stage of the potential agreement, as well as an openness to discuss the Hamas demand for “sustainable calm” in the Gaza Strip.

“There is a new initiative and it is serious,” a source was quoted as saying.

On Monday, Channel 12 said Israel’s “far-reaching” proposal included a readiness to discuss a long-term ceasefire at the end of the first phase of the deal. According to the outlet, that proposal was supported by IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi.

The reports came as Netanyahu denied claims that he and his coalition allies were avoiding reaching an agreement that would bring the hostages home while halting the fighting.

“I totally reject the idea that I am not giving the negotiating team the mandate it has requested,” he asserted on Monday, claiming he has okayed requests for increased flexibility five times since late December.

Israelis call for the release of hostages held by terrorists in Gaza since Hamas’s October 7 massacre, outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem on May 22, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The denial came a day after a report cited leaked comments from the IDF’s point person to the talks claiming the government was not playing ball.

“We are desperate,” the report quoted Maj. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon as saying last week in private conversation to IDF officials involved in the hostage issue. “With the composition of this government, there will be no deal.”

Netanyahu’s comments came after MK Gadi Eisenkot, an observer in the war cabinet, reportedly told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee that Israel should suspend its offensive in Rafah for as long as is necessary to secure the release of the hostages through a deal with Hamas.

“Just as we stopped for a truce last time, we can suspend the fighting and return to it for as long as it takes to achieve the goals of the war,” Eisenkot was said to have told the committee, referring to the weeklong truce in late November that brought about the release of 105 hostages.

Alon’s reported criticism echoed increasingly heated claims from the families of some hostages accusing Netanyahu and his government of blocking a deal due to what they describe as narrow political considerations and hardline policies. Many far-right politicians in Netanyahu’s governing coalition have indicated that they oppose dealing with Hamas or making concessions to free the hostages.

Protesters call for the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza since October 7, outside the Defense Ministry Headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2024. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

At the same time, anti-government protests centered on the government’s inability to reach a deal and the failures ahead of October 7 have grown significantly in both size in recent weeks.

Israel launched its war against Hamas following the October 7 massacre, in which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists assaulted southern Israeli communities and military positions, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping 252. One hundred and twenty-one of the hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, not all of them alive.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of two slain IDF soldiers since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

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