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May 19, 2024

Netanyahu Rejects Hamas Ceasefire Terms, Divisions Emerge Among Israeli Leadership

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Jan 22, 2024

Netanyahu Firmly Rejects Hamas Demands, But Some Ministers Seek Compromise

According to recent reports from multiple news outlets, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has firmly rejected the terms put forth by Hamas for a long-term ceasefire deal that would include releasing several Israeli hostages held captive since October. However, growing rifts have emerged among Netanyahu’s security cabinet over whether Israel should compromise on some Hamas demands in order to secure the hostages’ release.

In a statement issued Sunday, Netanyahu unequivocally turned down the main conditions laid out by Hamas the day before, calling them “unreasonable demands” that would allow the militant group to claim victory. These demands included:

  • A full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza
  • An end to the blockade and siege of Gaza
  • The release of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails
  • Compensation to Gazan families for war damages

“I reject outright the unreasonable demands of the Hamas monsters,” Netanyahu declared. “If we accept them, it means that all our soldiers who fell there fell in vain.”

However, several key ministers came out publicly on Sunday urging the government to reconsider and be more flexible in negotiations. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen argued that Israel needed to prioritize freeing the captives held by Hamas, even if it meant concessions that legitimize Hamas’ rule in Gaza.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich took an opposing hardline stance, accusing Netanyahu of failing to defeat Hamas militarily and “not telling the whole truth” regarding the extent of Israel’s victory in Gaza.

Israel Believed Close to Securing Release Months Ago, But Talks Stalled

When two Israeli civilians and the remains of two IDF soldiers were captured by Hamas during a bloody October battle, Israel believed it was on the cusp of reaching a deal to bring them home. Indirect talks were held through Egyptian mediators in November and December, during a tacit ceasefire. There were reports in early January that a prisoner swap was imminent.

But negotiations hit a wall earlier this month. Israel insists it put “serious and responsible” offers on the table then for a limited prisoner release in exchange for the civilians and soldiers’ bodies. Yet Hamas made new demands linked to easing Gaza’s isolation and economic suffering – conditions Netanyahu now refuses to entertain.

With over 250 Gazans held in Israeli prisons, Hamas also wants more Palestinian prisoners included in any final swap. Its leadership has played up the hostage issue to rally domestic support in Gaza after the devastating Israeli military strikes of the past year.

Israel Dealt Major Blows But Did Not Decisively Defeat Hamas in 2023-24 Gaza Fighting

The latest Israel-Hamas war erupted in August 2023, sparked by the arrest of a senior Hamas leader in the West Bank. Hamas fired rockets deep into Israeli territory for over a month, while Israel carried out waves of airstrikes trying to degrade Hamas’ capabilities.

An Egyptian-brokered truce in late September 2023 halted the rocket attacks, though some localized clashes continued. The violence flared up in October with a failed Israeli special forces raid in Gaza to capture top Hamas figures that led to fierce battles.

While the Israeli military dealt serious blows to Hamas strategically, Netanyahu faces growing criticism that he has overstated Gaza gains to justify the war’s costs. Israel lost over 120 soldiers and civilians in the fighting. Hamas remains firmly in control in Gaza, its rocket arsenal largely intact.

Most analysts see a return to sustained calm as unlikely without substantive progress on Israeli-Palestinian issues. But deep hostility between Israeli leadership and Hamas raises doubts talks can advance.

Key Ministers Challenge Netanyahu’s Commitment to Hostage Talks Amid Election Season

In their pointed public statements, Foreign Minister Cohen and Finance Minister Smotrich also expressed suspicions that electoral considerations could be hindering Netanyahu from compromise in the negotiations.

Israel now faces a pivotal March election, after Netanyahu’s coalition collapsed last month. He seeks to regain his position as Prime Minister at the head of a hard-right bloc.

Some senior ministers have thus questioned whether Netanyahu has the motivation to make concessions for the sake of the hostages when taking a tough line on Hamas could benefit him politically. There is also bitterness that the October raid that led to the hostage crisis was planned for domestic public relations purposes rather than military necessity.

Hostage Families Desperate for Progress as Videos Emerge

For the families of captive Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin and civilian Hisham al-Sayed, seeing the first proof of life videos from Hamas last week brought some relief but also renewed anguish. Sources say both men look emaciated and injured in the footage, increasing fears for their health after 16 months in captivity.

Other relatives of soldiers whose remains are held by Hamas protested outside Netanyahu’s office Monday, pleading for the government’s help after years of agonizing limbo.

With talks deadlocked, there is desperation for the Israeli leadership to stabilized the situation in Gaza enough to allow some family visitations or aid packages to be delivered.

Prospects for a Deal

Reasons for Pessimism Reasons for Optimism
Netanyahu may be unwilling to give Hamas achievements to claim before March election Strong public pressure on Israel to make compromise to free civilians
Smotrich and other right-wing allies reject many Hamas demands on principle Some form of limited prisoner exchange still possible
Hamas buoyed by defiance of Israel, seeks to solidify political gains Egypt can broker if both sides show flexibility
Years of bloodshed and hostility leave little trust between Israel and Hamas Biden administration urging restraint, could offer incentives

While the rhetoric remains confrontational at the moment, some experts argue the emerging cracks on the Israeli side could signal readiness to deescalate tensions surrounding the hostages. Much depends on Egyptian efforts to find a formula acceptable to both Netanyahu and Hamas. However, talks seem destined to stall at least until after Israel’s March election.

What Comes Next?

In the short term, more regional mediation attempts and behind the scenes talks are likely, even if chances for a near term deal look remote. There are concerns the situation could spiral out of control if any of the Israeli captives are killed or if their conditions markedly deteriorate. Hamas views them as important bargaining chips to ease Gaza’s increasing humanitarian plight.

Further out, change may depend on the outcome of Israel’s election and the new government’s approach. A leadership less hostile to Hamas could open more dialogue. But another strong right-wing coalition headed by Netanyahu would signal a continued stalemate on larger Israeli-Palestinian issues and likely incentivize more violence down the road.

Conclusion

In recent days, fissures within Israel’s war cabinet have been laid bare over whether navigating a hostage crisis should take precedence over military defeat of Hamas. For now, Netanyahu remains defiant of any terms legitimizing Hamas. With his domestic position at stake, Israeli concessions seem improbable until after the March election.

Yet the tragic costs of stalemate mount daily. Whether via prisoner swaps, ceasefires, or steps toward a 2-state solution, the bitter hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians will inevitably require both sides to make gut-wrenching compromises for any hopes of peace.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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