IThere is movement in the negotiations over the Hamas hostages. Several days after presenting a draft of another agreement, Hamas forwarded its response to international mediators. Qatar's Prime Minister Muhammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said on Tuesday evening that there had been some comments, but that the Hamas proposal was “generally positive.”
American President Joe Biden said there was “some movement” in the struggle for a hostage agreement, but at the same time called the demands of the Palestinian Islamists “a little exaggerated.” Negotiations would continue, he said in Washington. Hamas itself said on Wednesday that its ideas were “reasonable and realistic.” The proposal was also leaked to media outlets. Diplomats saw this as an attempt to increase pressure on Netanyahu and make it clear “that the ball is now in his court.”
According to the draft, three phases are planned, each of which should last 45 days. In the first phase, all women as well as the elderly, the sick and men under the age of 19 who were kidnapped into the Gaza Strip should be released. In the second phase, the remaining men should be released, and in the third, the bodies of the killed hostages should be handed over.
Right wing threatens to leave coalition
In return, Palestinian prisoners should be released. In addition, the Israeli army should withdraw from the Gaza Strip, humanitarian aid should be delivered there and reconstruction should begin. Hamas also demands a permanent ceasefire, which Israel rejects.
Unnamed government officials were quoted in Israeli media on Wednesday as saying that some of the demands put forward by Hamas were unacceptable and that others could be discussed. Diplomats who were briefed on the negotiations told the FAZ that beyond the question of a permanent ceasefire, there was agreement on the essential issues. But they also explained that there were still details to be clarified that would pose some pitfalls. This involves, for example, the process and modalities of an Israeli withdrawal, the number of Palestinian prisoners that would be released for each hostage, or the modalities of aid deliveries.
There is hope in mediator circles that they can convince Hamas that in the end it is not important to enshrine a permanent ceasefire in an agreement. After a months-long break in fighting, the calculation goes, it is hardly possible for the Israeli leadership to start the war again. Benjamin Netanyahu is also aware of this, says a diplomat, who speaks of “massive American pressure” on the Israeli Prime Minister. The right wing of his coalition is threatening Netanyahu with leaving the government if Israel ends the war in the Gaza Strip.
New reports on number of hostages killed
The head of government has not yet scheduled a cabinet meeting to formally discuss Israel's response to Hamas' proposal. The topic may have come up in a meeting with Antony Blinken on Wednesday. The US Secretary of State's two-day visit to Israel is part of another Middle East tour. Blinken also wants to push forward a Saudi-Israeli peace agreement, one of President Biden's foreign policy priorities before the presidential election in the fall.
Meanwhile, American efforts to broker a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suffered a setback on Wednesday morning. Saudi Arabia made it clear in a strong Foreign Ministry statement that it would only “normalize” its relations with Israel once there was a Palestinian state “within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Earlier in the day, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Washington had received positive feedback from both sides willing to continue discussions on normalization. Before the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7 and the massive Israeli counterattack, Saudi Arabia would have had a binding perspective for the establishment of a Palestinian state, according to senior Arab diplomats. In view of the outrage over Israel's conduct of the war in Gaza, the kingdom has massively increased its demands.
Meanwhile, there are reports that significantly more hostages than previously known may no longer be alive. The Israeli military recently reported the number of people held in the Gaza Strip at 136. However, 31 of them were already brought there dead or have since died. A report in the Wall Street Journal now states that the army internally estimates that up to 50 of the people kidnapped on October 7th could be dead.