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Netanyahu, Biden Signal Renewed Gaza Ceasefire Negotiations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a statement on Nov. 24, 2015, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. (U.S. State Department/Released)
July 05, 2024

An Israeli delegation is set to take up another round of negotiations for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip after Hamas requested changes to a three-phase proposal backed by U.S. President Joe Biden in May.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office published a statement on Wednesday, acknowledging they had received Hamas’ latest remarks on the outline of a proposed ceasefire and exchange of captives. Netanyahu’s office said, “Israel is evaluating the remarks and will convey its reply to the mediators.”

Biden and Netanyahu discussed the ceasefire talks further on a July 4 call.

“President Biden and the Prime Minister discussed ongoing efforts to finalize a ceasefire deal together with the release of hostages, as outlined by President Biden and endorsed by the UN Security Council, the G7, and countries around the world,” reads a White House readout of their call, referencing the May ceasefire proposal Biden endorsed.

Biden reportedly welcomed Netanyahu’s decision to have Israeli negotiators reengage with U.S., Qatari, and Egyptian mediators “in an effort to close out the deal.”

The specifics of the latest Hamas counter-terms are not yet public. Reuters reported, citing an anonymous Palestinian official close to the talks, that Hamas negotiators had dropped a demand for Israel to commit to a permanent ceasefire before signing onto a three-phase agreement. Instead, the official said negotiators could finalize a long-term ceasefire plan during the first phase of hostage exchanges, set to last at least six weeks.

Like the plan Biden articulated in May, phase one of the deal includes an at least temporary ceasefire. If negotiators need more time to implement the second phase of the agreement, mediators can extend the temporary phase one ceasefire beyond six weeks.

The three-phase plan Biden articulated in May would see Israeli forces withdraw from all populated areas of the Gaza Strip in phase one. Hamas would, in turn, hand over women, wounded, and elderly captives they took from Israel on Oct. 7.

Phase one of the ceasefire deal would see Israel also release hundreds of Palestinian captives in their custody.

Biden previously described phase one of the deal as a launch point for the second and third phases. Hamas and Israeli negotiators would use this first phase to discuss how they get to a permanent end to the fighting.

The second phase would see Israeli forces leave the Gaza Strip altogether, while Hamas releases Israeli troops they captured on Oct. 7.

The third phase would see reconstruction begin in the Gaza Strip, and the repatriation of the remains of captives killed in Gaza through the course of the fighting.

It’s unclear what other terms may be on the table after Hamas sent back the proposal last month with several unspecified requests for changes.

Netanyahu and his governing coalition entered the current war with a vow to outright destroy Hamas’s military arm and governance structure in the Gaza Strip. Hamas has been unwilling to accept their ouster from power as a precondition for a long-term peace, and the plan Biden articulated in May left unclear how negotiators might move from phase one to phase two of the ceasefire deal without Hamas disarming and disbanding their governance structure in the Gaza Strip.

Some Israeli military officials have begun to question the feasibility of eliminating Hamas. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said in a June interview with Channel 13 news that Hamas represents an “idea” that is “rooted in the hearts of the people.” Hagari later added that eliminating the ideology of Hamas poses a deeper challenge than simply destroying its organized fighting forces and driving its leaders out of office in the Gaza Strip.

The New York Times reported this week that Israel’s military leadership would prefer a ceasefire that leaves Hamas in power in the Gaza Strip for now, while Israel shifts its focus to a potential wider war to its north with Hezbollah. Security officials who spoke with the New York Times, mostly on condition of anonymity, said those Israeli military leaders are concerned about conserving munitions and fighting capabilities exhausted by around nine months of fighting in the Gaza Strip.

“The military is in full support of a hostage deal and a cease-fire,” former Israeli national security advisor Eyal Hulata told the New York Times.

“They believe that they can always go back and engage Hamas militarily in the future,” added Hulata, who still speaks regularly with Israeli military officials. “They understand that a pause in Gaza makes de-escalation more likely in Lebanon. And they have less munitions, less spare parts, less energy than they did before — so they also think a pause in Gaza gives us more time to prepare in case a bigger war does break out with Hezbollah.”

This article was originally published by FreeBase News and is reprinted with permission.