Netanyahu dismisses “delusional” Hamas proposalHostage deal: Israeli and US officials have commented publicly on Hamas’s counter-proposal to the latest hostage deal.
- Prime Minister Netanyahu described Hamas’s demands as “delusional”. He added that “ongoing military pressure is a necessary condition for freeing the hostages.”
- “Surrender to the… demands made by Hamas, which we’ve now heard, not only won’t bring about the hostages’ release, it will only invite another massacre; it will invite a terrible disaster on the State of Israel that not a single one of our citizens is prepared to accept.”
- Defence Minister Gallant said that Hamas’s position would “lead to an extension of the war, and our troops to additional places in Gaza, soon.”
- US Secretary of State Blinken, on a visit to Israel, was more circumspect, saying that “while there are some clear nonstarters in Hamas response, we think it creates space for an agreement to be reached and we’ll work at that relentlessly till we get there.”
- Blinken “made clear that Israel is fully justified in confronting Hamas and other terrorist organisations – that’s why the US has done more than any other country to support Israel right to ensure October 7 doesn’t happen again,” he said.
- Blinken also said that during his discussions with Netanyahu he raised “profound concerns about actions and rhetoric, including from government officials, that inflame tension and undercut international support and place greater strains on Israel’s security.”
- The “hostages have been dehumanised every day since,” their capture, he said, “but that’s not a license to dehumanise others.”
- On aid, while recognising that Israel has acted so that “more assistance today than ever is moving into Gaza from more places than any time since October 7,” Blinken also said that the US “calls on Israel to open Erez crossing in northern Gaza, expedite flow of aid from Jordan, strengthen de-confliction and improve coordination with humanitarian providers, and must ensure delivery of life-saving assistance is not blocked for any reason by anyone.”
Gaza: Israeli troops have captured dozens of suspected terrorists in western Khan Yunis over the past 24 hours, including two who took part in the October 7th massacre.
- Elsewhere in the city, 20 Hamas members were killed in an Israeli offensive against a Hamas site.
West Bank: A wanted Palestinian was killed during a military operation in the Nur al-Shams refugee camp in the West Bank. According to the IDF, the casualty is Muazzam Ali, a “senior activist” in the camp, who was suspected of shooting at Israeli forces and involvement in terrorist activity.
- A Palestinian gunmen was also shot dead after opening fire at Israeli troops near the West Bank town of Dayr Sharaf.
- Two more Palestinians were injured, potentially by the assailant’s gunfire. No troops were injured, though one was hit on the helmet by a bullet.
Context: According to Reuters and Israeli media reports, Hamas proposed a three-stage ceasefire/hostage release plan, each stage lasting 45 days (for more details on the Hamas response, see yesterday’s BICOM Morning Brief):
- Haaretz reports today that Hamas is also seeking to link the hostage release to demands over the protocol for Jewish entry to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount complex.
- Hamas’s proposed amendments to the hostage deal proposal also aim to provide explicitly for the end of the war.
- According to a draft document seen by Reuters¸ implementation of the second phase of hostage releases would not happen until “indirect talks over the requirements needed to end the mutual military operations and return to complete calm” had been held.
- With Israel continuing to insist that no deal will be reached that provides explicitly for the end of the war before the defeat of Hamas, the US and Qatar are now expected to apply pressure to Hamas in a bid to force it to scale back its demands.
- Israel maintains that the best way to force Hamas to do this is through maintaining the military pressure in Gaza.
- Despite differences within the security cabinet, if a reasonable deal is ultimately agreed, it is thought that a majority of the ministers will vote in favour of it, including the prime minister.
- Blinken’s remarks, during a press conference in Tel Aviv, were perhaps the most publicly critical of Israel he has been since October 7.
- This morning, Blinken met with war cabinet ministers Gantz and Eisenkot and separately with Opposition Chair Yair Lapid. The Biden Administration has maintained close connections with both Gantz’s National Unity Party and Lapid’s Yesh Atid – a response, some argue, to their frustrations with Netanyahu.
- Blinken also met with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, the two discussing, said Blinken, “the benefits of revitalising the Palestinian Authority.” The US has long maintained its preference for a technocratic and reformed PA playing a major role in a post-Hamas Gaza.
- Israel is concerned about escalation in West Bank, especially in the lead up to Ramadan.
- On Tuesday, Israeli National Security Council chairman Hanegbi, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, and COGAT chief Alian met with PA intelligence head Majed Faraj and Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh.
- Although ostensibly a secret meeting, details have emerged of their discussion. The military and intelligence echelons argue that economic instability is degrading the authority of the PA and increasing the security risks emanating from the West Bank. Therefore, The Times of Israel quotes a senior diplomat saying that the Israelis said “they would take a number of steps to address the situation, including reducing the number of checkpoints, reducing the number of arrest raids, allowing a subset of several thousand workers above the age of 45 to return to their jobs in Israel and reopening several Palestinian cities to Arab Israelis.”
- While Gallant is thought to concur with the military, security, and intelligence heads, support for the PA has been opposed by some in the political echelon, who point to the PA’s refusal to formally condemn October 7th and its continued incitement of terror. (For a full analysis of the range of Israeli thinking on this issue, see BICOM’s recent research paper “The West Bank in the Shadow of October 7”.)
Looking ahead: Egyptian reports suggest that a new round of talks will begin today, as part of the negotiation efforts towards a hostage release deal.
- An Israeli offensive in Rafah remains likely, Netanyahu confirming that “we’ve instructed the IDF to prepare also to operate in Rafah and in two camps in the centre, the last strongholds Hamas has left. Here too, when the time comes, the IDF will act in compliance with international law and will allow the [civilian] population safe passage out of the war zones.”
- Saudi Arabia will today host a summit of foreign ministers from Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, in a bid to craft a unified Arab position on the war and the post-war situation in Gaza.