Israel has proposed a two-month ceasefire with Hamas in exchange for releasing two Israeli hostages held in Gaza, according to an Axios report. This comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a Hamas proposal on Saturday to release two Israeli hostages in phases in exchange for a lifting of the blockade and other concessions.
The Israeli government’s new proposal outlines a two-month pause in fighting to allow for negotiations on a long-term ceasefire. According to the Times of Israel, during the first month Hamas would release footage showing the hostages alive. In the second month, it would release the hostages themselves. Once the hostages are released, Israel would agree to a United Nations-brokered ceasefire.
Netanyahu Rejects Hamas Terms for Hostage Deal
On Saturday, Hamas presented its proposal to Egyptian mediators for a phased release of two Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the latest war began in December. The Islamist group demanded a complete lifting of Israel’s blockade on Gaza among other conditions, which Netanyahu dismissed as amounting to “outright surrender.”
“There is no real proposal from Hamas to return our sons home,” Netanyahu told families of the two hostages on Sunday. “We are committed to returning the soldiers and civilians; this commitment is unchanged.”
The prime minister has come under pressure, including from his own cabinet, over his handling of the hostage situation. Some Israeli military officials told the New York Times that Netanyahu was reluctant to meet Hamas’ demands because it could be portrayed as a defeat.
Israel’s Cabinet Divided Over War Strategy
Netanyahu’s decision to reject Hamas’ offer has exposed divisions within Israel’s security cabinet over strategy on Gaza. Cabinet minister Yoaz Hendel accused the prime minister of not revealing the full details of the proposal to all cabinet members.
“I think that Hamas’ proposal should be carefully considered,” Hendel said. “We have a moral obligation to extract our sons.”
Two former Israeli military generals also disagreed over the best approach in televised remarks on Monday. Retired Maj. Gen. Amos Gilead argued Netanyahu was right as meeting all of Hamas’ demands would set a “dangerous precedent.”
But ex-director of military intelligence Amos Yadlin said Israel should agree to concessions like partially easing the blockade in exchange for calm and to resolve the hostage crisis, calling the war “a defeat both operationally and strategically.”
Ceasefire Efforts Continue But Major Differences Remain
International mediators are still hoping to broker a longer-term ceasefire to end over a month of deadly fighting in Gaza. However significant gaps remain between the two sides.
Brett McGurk, the U.S. National Security Council’s Middle East coordinator, and other officials have been engaged in shuttle diplomacy to try to bridge differences. But after meeting Palestinian representatives on Sunday, McGurk said “we still have work to do.”
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials told McGurk that no ceasefire deal could be reached without the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, a key sticking point. The Palestinian groups also reiterated calls for a seaport and airport in Gaza. “There will be no negotiations without solving these issues first,” said a Hamas leader after talks with Egyptian mediators on Monday.
Israel still opposes many of these demands, with Netanyahu firmly ruling out any measures that could bolster Hamas’ standing or lead to Palestinian statehood. The Israeli government has also faced criticism from opposition lawmakers for not having a clear exit strategy from the Gaza war.
Israel Suffers Military Setbacks as Conflict Drags On
In almost two months of fighting triggered by an Israeli raid in Gaza, over 300 Palestinians and 15 Israelis have been killed. Israel insists that the war is necessary to degrade Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s military capabilities, including their networks of attack tunnels under Gaza.
But the conflict has dragged on longer than expected and dealt blows to Israel’s security forces. On Tuesday, Hamas said two Israeli soldiers were killed by gunmen who emerged from a tunnel during clashes in southern Gaza. That brings its total number of Israeli military fatalities to 10 since January 1.
Critics argue that Israel failed to achieve its stated war objectives, while noting the rising economic costs of the war effort. An Israeli tank officer told Haaretz that troops sent into Gaza in early January accomplished “almost nothing” of military significance before being pulled out due to heavy casualties.
There are also fears that Hamas could secure further concessions in eventual negotiations due to its leverage from holding two Israeli hostages. This comes as Netanyahu faces domestic pressure and eroding public trust in his leadership. A November poll found that only 30% of Jewish Israelis prefer Netanyahu as prime minister.
It remains unclear if the newly proposed temporary truce will lead to a breakthrough in ceasefire talks. The onus is now on Hamas to respond to Israel’s offer of a two-month pause in fighting for the staged release of two Israeli civilians held captive in Gaza.
Hamas could demand more in return for the hostages. But if it agrees, that could open the door to broader negotiations mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the US over Gaza’s future.
Either way, the Netanyahu government will likely come under mounting criticism if the crisis drags on further without resolution. Israel may be forced into more concessions to Hamas unless it can somehow change the calculations in its favor on the battlefield. But after recent military losses, that could require a risky escalation of force that the Israeli public may not support.
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