An end in sight?

Munjed Jadou, Wednesday 10 Jul 2024

There is cautious optimism as Hamas and Israel edge closer to a deal.

An end in sight


The American administration has recently criticised both sides in the nine-month war in Gaza. Both Israel or Hamas’ statements in the media, it said, differ from what they say at the negotiating table. This is a practical indication of the pressure both sides are under to end the conflict. Yet it seems both sides’ hold on power is tied to the continuation of the war.

Palestinian and Arab political sources have expressed cautious optimism regarding the possibility of a ceasefire and prisoner exchange deal between the Palestinian factions and Israel. A positive atmosphere has prevailed in recent hours, with the announcement of a return to negotiations in Qatar and official delegations being sent to Doha.

Israel is under pressure and threats from the Biden administration, which seeks to achieve a significant accomplishment to boost its chances in the upcoming US elections. Yet it is evident that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows that making a decision to end the war would result in an end to his rule and his possible imprisonment for several reasons, including failures in the war and numerous corruption cases. He therefore often responds to American and international pressures to end the war, only to retreat quickly following demands from his allies in the extreme right. He continues to obstruct an agreement.

Despite all this, there is public pressure within Israel, particularly to end the war and release Israeli prisoners. On Saturday night, about 200,000 Israelis protesters made those demands, calling for holding legislative elections that could lead to a government change. Additionally, increasing Israeli pressures on Netanyahu’s government due to the deteriorating economic situation, as economic activities have come to a halt since the war began.

Optimism is therefore tempered by doubts about Netanyahu’s seriousness. The Israeli opposition has warned of his manipulation, indicating that his actions, such as preventing a meeting between the Mossad chief and the defence minister and sending his adviser to negotiations in Qatar, reflect fear and may lead to him sabotaging efforts at the last moment.

Israeli media outlets opposing Netanyahu’s policies have reported that the Israeli security establishment is pressuring the government to reach an agreement due to changes in the dynamics of the conflict. They affirm that the benefits of continuing fighting are minimal and could even be negative. The Israeli Army Radio quoted Mossad officials as saying they believed the Israeli cabinet would approve the latest ceasefire proposal.

The Walla news website reported that the Mossad chief informed mediators in Doha of the rejection of Hamas’ request for a written commitment to continue Phase 2 negotiations without a time limit. Walla also cited Israeli officials saying that the disagreement concerns the duration of negotiations for Phase 2, which should lead to sustainable calm.

Channel 13 in Israel reported sources close to the negotiations stating that the first session in Qatar lasted for many hours and is expected to continue for several weeks. Officials in Israel estimate that the negotiation process for the return of detainees will take between three and five weeks.

Palestinian sources have indicated that Hamas has approved the resumption of negotiations, agreeing to the new initiative proposed by mediators in recent days. Many Palestinian sources have noted that Hamas is facing significant internal pressure, particularly from Qatar and Egypt on one side and the harsh realities of Gaza’s residents on the other.

Arab and international media sources have reported Hamas announcing its acceptance of the new proposal. For one thing, Hamas has informed the Lebanese Hizbullah of its agreement to the terms proposed by American, Qatari, and Egyptian mediators. Hamas leader Osama Hamdan told Agence France-Presse that the movement expects a response from Israel to its ceasefire proposals for Gaza either today or tomorrow.

He stated that, if the response is positive, the details of the proposals will be discussed. Hamdan also confirmed that the movement’s military capabilities in Gaza remain strong and can sustain the war. In his comments to the Egyptian Al-Ahram, political analyst Najib Faraj discussed the latest developments regarding the prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel, noting that the hope of reaching an agreement still exists despite significant challenges facing various involved parties.

Faraj highlighted that there is active movement in Doha over the next couple of days, especially with the arrival in Doha of CIA Director William Burns, who will proceed to Cairo. He also mentioned that Mossad Chief David Barnea visited Doha for several hours and returned to Tel Aviv to report on the outcome.

Najib explained that the Israeli government is currently seeking to establish technical committees to discuss the practical steps for the prisoner exchange deal, noting that the political and security margins available to Israel have been narrowing by the day since the outbreak of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on 7 October.

Regarding the emerging agreement, Faraj detailed the first phase of the deal, which includes a 46-day ceasefire and the release of 30 hostages, regardless of their condition. He also pointed out that there are disagreements about the location for the release of approximately 100 Palestinian prisoners, whether it will be in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, or abroad.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 11 July, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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