What are the main sticking points in the cease-fire talks between Israel and Hamas?

AP , Wednesday 12 Jun 2024

The latest proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza has the support of the United States and most of the international community, but Israel has not fully embraced it.

Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he waves as he boards his plane to depart, in Doha, Qatar. AP

 

Hamas this week accepted the broad outline but requested some “amendments." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly disputed aspects of the plan, raising questions about Israel's commitment to what the US says is an Israeli proposal.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is on his eighth visit to the region since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza, told reporters in Qatar on Wednesday that the negotiations will continue.

But he said Hamas had requested changes, adding that “ some of the changes are workable; some are not.”

Blinken declined to elaborate, but recent statements by Israeli and Hamas officials suggest they remain divided over many of the same issues that mediators have been trying to bridge for months.

Here's a look at the main sticking points.

Ending the war

Hamas has insisted it will not release the remaining captives unless there's a permanent cease-fire and a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. When President Joe Biden announced the latest proposal last month, he said it included both.

But Netanyahu says Israel is still committed to destroying Hamas' military and governing capabilities. A full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, where Hamas' top leadership and much of its forces are still intact, would almost certainly leave the group in the territory.

That's in part because Israel has yet to put forward a plan for Gaza's postwar governance, and has rejected a US proposal that has wide international and regional support because it would require major progress toward creating a Palestinian state.

Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha told a Lebanese news outlet on Wednesday that the “amendments” requested by the group aim to guarantee a permanent cease-fire and a complete Israeli withdrawal.

Hamas is also seeking the release of hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. But it's unclear if the sides have agreed on a list of who will be freed, or on whether they will be released in Gaza, the occupied West Bank or sent into exile.

 
Getting to the second phase of the plan

The cease-fire plan calls for an initial six-week phase in which Hamas would release some captives — including women, older adults and wounded people — in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from populated areas. Palestinian civilians would be able to return to their homes and humanitarian aid would be ramped up.

But then things get tricky.

The two sides are supposed to use that six-week period to negotiate an agreement on the second phase, which Biden said would include the release of all remaining living captives, including male soldiers, and Israel's full withdrawal from Gaza. The temporary cease-fire would become permanent.

But only if the two sides agree on the details.

Hamas appears concerned that Israel will resume the war once its most vulnerable captives are returned. And even if it doesn't, Israel could make demands in that stage of negotiations that were not part of the initial deal and are unacceptable to Hamas — and then resume the war when Hamas refuses them.

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said Israel would demand in those negotiations that Hamas be removed from power. 

Israel also appears wary of the plan's provision that the initial cease-fire be extended as long as negotiations continue over the second phase. 

 

Resolving mistrust between longtime enemies

There are other issues that could unravel cease-fire efforts, beginning with the utter lack of trust between Israel and Hamas.

Then there are the intense and contrasting pressures on Netanyahu, which may explain his mixed signals about the proposal.

Thousands of Israelis, including families of the captives, have protested in recent months to demand the government bring the captives home, even at the expense of a lopsided deal with Hamas.

But the extremist far-right partners in Netanyahu's increasingly narrow coalition have rejected the US-backed plan and have threatened to bring down his government if he ends the war without destroying Hamas.

They want to reoccupy Gaza, force the “voluntary emigration” of Palestinians from the territory and rebuild Jewish settlements there. Netanyahu's ultranationalist allies have more leverage over him than at any time since the start of the war after Benny Gantz, a centrist political opponent, resigned Sunday from Israel's war Cabinet.

It's hard to imagine either Israel or Hamas entirely giving up on the talks. For Israel, that would likely mean abandoning scores of captives still held in Gaza. For Hamas, it would prolong the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, where Israel killed over 37,000 people, mostly children and women.

But Blinken hinted that the negotiations would not continue indefinitely.

“At some point in a negotiation, and this has gone back and forth for a long time, you get to a point where if one side continues to change its demands, including making demands and insisting on changes for things that it already accepted, you have to question whether they’re proceeding in good faith or not.”

Short link: