A U.S.-brokered deal to release some Israeli hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a five-day pause in the fighting and an increase in humanitarian supplies, including fuel, is reportedly close.
The instructions that have been hammered out require all parties to freeze combat operations for five days while the first group of 50 hostages is released with additional smaller groups of hostages released every 24 hours.
The halt in fighting is supposed to allow an increase in humanitarian aid into Gaza from Egypt.
“We’ve made some progress recently and have been working hard to advance this, but it remains a volatile situation,” an administration official said Saturday on condition of anonymity.
If history is any guide, Hamas and Israel are making sure there’s no double-crossing by either party. Where there’s zero trust, every line in the agreement must be verified and tested to make sure there are no landmines.
That said, the complexity of trying to negotiate a deal in Doha, Qatar, and get agreement from Hamas leaders in Gaza (no doubt, underground) as well as military commanders in the field is a challenge. There are also issues that may be confused in the process.
The outline of a deal was put together during weeks of talks in Doha, Qatar, among Israel, the United States and Hamas, indirectly represented by Qatari mediators, according to Arab and other diplomats. But it remained unclear until now that Israel would agree to temporarily pause its offensive in Gaza, provided the conditions were right.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Washington said late Saturday that “we are not going to comment” on any aspect of the hostage situation.
Concern about the captives — two of whom Israel said were found dead — along with the rising number of Palestinian civilian casualties have steadily increased pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. More than 100 countries — but, notably, not the United States — have called for a full and immediate cease-fire.
As badly as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to eradicate Hamas, I think it’s going to be very difficult for him to ramp up the offensive after any kind of pause. The “cease-fire” forces are gaining strength and momentum, and it’s difficult to see how much longer the U.S. can hang with Netanyahu in achieving his primary war aim.
But the Israeli people appear to be standing strong behind Netanyahu.
The decision to accept the deal is difficult for Israel, said one person familiar with the situation who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations. While there is strong domestic pressure on Netanyahu to bring the hostages home, there are also loud voices in Israel demanding that the government not barter for their release.
In public remarks, Israel has remained unyielding, while acknowledging the pressure it is under. On Friday, Israeli National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi told reporters that the war cabinet had unanimously agreed that a limited cease-fire could occur only after “a massive release of our hostages … and it will be limited and short, because after that we will continue to work towards achieving our war goals.”
Netanyahu can’t back down now. He must see it through to whatever end he can engineer. What does it mean to “destroy” Hamas? The terrorists are firmly entrenched in Gaza and rooting all of them out will be a huge challenge.
But if he is talking about destroying Hamas’s ability to hurt Israel, that’s a difficult but attainable goal. There are still weeks of hard fighting and bombing ahead before that goal can be achieved.
As long as the people of Israel are with him, Netanyahu can prevail.