Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas appear to be moving closer to a ceasefire deal after over a week of intense fighting and negotiations, though significant gaps remain.
Background of the Conflict
The current escalation began in late January when Israeli forces launched a raid in the West Bank city of Jenin targeting Islamic Jihad militants. In the raid, 10 Palestinians were killed including civilians. Islamic Jihad and other Gaza based militant groups retaliated by firing rockets into Israel (Al Jazeera).
Israel responded with airstrikes targeting militant posts and infrastructure in Gaza. Hamas, the militant group controlling Gaza, joined the conflict on January 25th by launching rocket barrages deeper into Israel. This sparked a serious escalation as Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes over the next week while militants fired over 1,000 rockets according to the IDF (Times of Israel).
Current Ceasefire Negotiations
With over 250 Palestinians and 10 Israelis killed so far (Guardian), efforts have been underway over the past week to broker a ceasefire. Egypt, Qatar and the US are the main mediators trying to hammer out a deal.
The emerging proposal is a two stage agreement – first a pause in fighting to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. This would be followed by a more comprehensive truce if the calm holds.
In return, Hamas has demanded Israel release Palestinian prisoners, including some high profile militants. Israel is seeking the release of two civilian hostages held in Gaza as well as the remains of two soldiers killed in 2014.
On Thursday, a Hamas official said the group is seriously considering the truce offer but has not officially approved it yet. Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh said “intensive talks” are still taking place around the mediators’ proposal (Al Jazeera).
Key Remaining Sticking Points
While both sides appear interested in ending the escalation, significant gaps still remain before a deal can be reached.
Prisoner Swap: One of the main issues is the number of Palestinian prisoners Israel would release in exchange for the Israeli captives held by Hamas. An unnamed Hamas source said the group wants 150 prisoners released for each Israeli hostage (Wall Street Journal). Israeli officials have balked at such a lopsided exchange so far.
Lifting Restrictions: Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said any deal must include measures to lift the blockade on Gaza and increase freedom of movement for Palestinians (France24). Israel has shown no willingness to ease restrictions without disarmament commitments from Hamas.
Timing of Aid: According to reports, the truce proposal calls for a 12 hour pause in fighting first to allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza. Hamas stated the aid should come immediately with the truce while Israel wants calm first (ABC News).
Fate of Slain IDF Soldier: Hamas is also demanding Israel return the remains of an IDF soldier killed during the 2014 Gaza War who Hamas claims to hold. Israel has denied Hamas possesses the remains (Times of Israel).
|Key Ceasefire Deal Terms
|150:1 ratio (Palestinian:Israeli)
|More even exchange
|End blockade & increase freedom of movement
|Timing of Aid
|Immediate with ceasefire
|Calm first then aid
|Remains of Slain Soldier
|Return remains to family
|Hamas does not possess
Efforts to Secure a Deal
Intensive diplomatic efforts are underway to try to bridge the remaining gaps between the parties and secure a truce.
The US has taken the lead in trying to mediate a deal. CIA Director William Burns even made an unexpected trip to Paris over the weekend for talks with officials from Israel, Egypt and Qatar (CBS News).
On Monday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani met with President Biden in Washington. He stated “we have made substantial progress in the last few days” but warned tensions remain high (Atlantic Council).
With over 250 Palestinians and 10 Israelis killed over the past 10 days, there is urgency for mediators to secure an end to the violence. But the remaining divisions mean the ceasefire still hangs in the balance.
What to Expect Next
In the coming days, efforts will continue to try to bridge gaps on the key issues to reach an agreement. However, recent cycles of violence between Israel and Gaza suggest the path forward remains precarious.
If the mediators can convince both sides to show some flexibility, a limited deal may be announced soon. This could involve a short-term halt in fighting and incremental easing of Israeli restrictions.
However, such a deal may simply set the stage for the next round of clashes if underlying disputes over Israeli policies in the West Bank and the blockade on Gaza aren’t addressed.
Ultimately, a long-term ceasefire will require a broader political solution between Israel and the Palestinians. But in the current environment filled with tension and hostility, even a limited truce remains elusive, and the violence threatens to continue.
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