Here Are the Gaps Between Israel and Hamas on the Latest Cease-Fire Proposal

Here Are the Gaps Between Israel and Hamas on the Latest Cease-Fire Proposal

By Oghale May7,2024

Israeli officials said on Tuesday that major gaps remained with Hamas over the latest proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza, as delegations from both sides arrived in Cairo to resume talks.

Hamas said on Monday that it had accepted the terms of a cease-fire proposed by Arab mediators, and U.S. officials said it had minor wording changes from a proposal that Israel and the United States had recently presented to the group.

But Israeli officials disputed that characterization, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying on Tuesday that his war cabinet unanimously believed the proposal Hamas had agreed to was “very far from Israel’s core demands.”

The text of the revised proposal was circulating in Israeli news media on Tuesday and was confirmed as authentic by a senior Hamas official. A person briefed on the negotiations also described the differences in the two sides’ positions. Here are the key ones:

The most substantive sticking point centers on a key phrase that appears in both the Israeli- and Hamas-approved proposals: a path to “sustainable calm.”

In the proposal that Israel approved, and that Egypt conveyed to the Hamas leadership on April 26, the two sides would work toward achieving a “sustainable calm” in Gaza after an initial six-week pause in fighting. That proposal left those two words open to interpretation.

But in the Hamas-approved proposal, that term is clearly defined as a permanent cessation of hostilities and a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip.

Israel has consistently opposed any deal that explicitly calls for a permanent cease-fire or an end to the war, and has said it would not agree to either until it felt its military offensive had achieved its goals. Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the Hamas timetable would commit Israel to ending the war while Hamas still holds hostages, leaving Israel without any leverage.

Israel might have been willing to discuss ending the war later on in the process, but it would not commit to doing so from the outset, according to experts.

“If you sign the deal you are committing to all of it,” Mr. Yaari said.

The first phase of a three-phase agreement would be the six-week pause in fighting, during which Israel would exchange hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli jails for 33 of the most vulnerable hostages held in Gaza. Those are all the women, including female soldiers, as well as older men and sick and injured people. Israel had lowered its initial demand for about 40 hostages in that category because it came to believe that only 33 remained alive, out of a total of 132 hostages still being held in Gaza.

But Hamas informed negotiators on Monday that not all of the 33 who would be freed in the first phase were still living, and that the remains of those who have died would be among the releases — a disclosure that surprised the Israelis.

In addition, Hamas has suggested a framework that would stretch out the hostage release by freeing three on the third day after the pause begins, then three more every seven days after that. An earlier proposal had three hostages being released every three days.

Prolonging the releases, analysts say, would mean that negotiations over the second phase of the deal — getting to a “sustainable calm” — would take place while Hamas held more bargaining chips. And Israelis also fear that committing to this situation would increase the possibility that more of the sickest hostages could die before they are released.

The proposal that Israel agreed to in April allowed it to veto the release of some of the Palestinian prisoners serving life sentences — those expected to be exchanged for Israeli soldiers being held hostage — from a list of 200 names. The proposal approved by Hamas removed any such Israeli right of refusal.

The Israeli government was largely portraying the start of its ground operation in Rafah as a means of putting pressure on the group to soften its negotiating stance. Hamas called the Israeli operation a “dangerous escalation” intended “to disrupt mediation efforts for a cease-fire and the release of prisoners.”

Still, as both sides sent delegations to Cairo on Tuesday for cease-fire talks, White House spokesman John F. Kirby said, “there should be no reason why they can’t overcome those remaining gaps.”

Julian E. Barnes, Adam Rasgon, Gabby Sobelman and Myra Noveck contributed reporting.

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By Oghale

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