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Peace and Conflict

Hamas yet to respond to hostage deal proposal, Biden talks Palestinian statehood | Update 2nd February 2024

Hamas yet to respond to hostage deal proposal, Biden talks Palestinian statehood via BICom

Potential hostage deal: Hamas announced last night that it had received the latest proposal for a ceasefire and hostage release, but did not relay its response to any of the sides involved in the negotiations.

  • A spokesman for the Qatari Foreign Ministry said that Israel had agreed to the proposal and that they also received initial agreement from Hamas, though no formal Hamas acceptance of the terms has happened yet.
  • The Israeli Security Cabinet met last night to discuss the proposed deal, with a senior Israeli official estimating its chances of success at 50 percent.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that the proposal on the table would involve a three-stage process to return all 136 hostages, both living and dead, in exchange for a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The ratio of hostages freed to Palestinian prisoners released remains contentious, with Hamas said to be holding out for 150 prisoners released for each female soldier being held.
    • Stage one would see a six-week ceasefire observed in Gaza, during which Hamas would round up the hostages ready for release. It is expected that elderly and sick will be released in this round. Gazan residents will also be allowed to move freely around the Strip.
    • Stage two would witness the release of female soldiers held hostage, as well as an increase in humanitarian aid into Gaza and guarantees that hospitals, bakeries and water services will retain the ability to function.
    • Stage three would see the release of male soldiers and the bodies of dead hostages.

Israel-Egypt: Talks are ongoing between the two countries concerning the Philadelphi Corridor, the narrow strip running the full length of the Egypt-Gaza border.

  • In a bid to prevent the smuggling of weapons from Egypt to terror groups in the Strip, Israel has proposed to secure the corridor with IDF troops, a move previously opposed by Egypt.
  • Now, however, Israeli officials are briefing that the two sides are “nearing consent” on a “certain Israeli presence” in the corridor. This follows a meeting held this week between Shin Bet Director Bar and IDF Intelligence Director Maj. Gen. Haliva at Egyptian intelligence headquarters in Cairo, in which an alternative to troops on the ground was discussed, which would see “technological” measures installed above the Philadelphi Corridor on the Israeli side that would detect the presence of Palestinians or attempts to approach the corridor in order to reach Sinai or to smuggle weapons and military equipment to Gaza through tunnels.
  • Israel is also understood to have held talks with a Persian Gulf state in a bid to persuade it to finance the construction of an underground barrier that would completely disconnect Gaza from Sinai.
  • Agreement also seems to have been reached to allay Egyptian fears that fighting in the Rafah area, close to the Egypt-Gaza border, would prompt some of the million-odd Palestinian refugees in the area to flee into Egyptian territory. Israel is thought to have committed, for now, to avoiding military action there.

Context: A hostage deal of the type described continues to be vehemently opposed by elements within the Israeli coalition, most especially Finance Minister Smotrich and National Security Minister Ben Gvir. (For more details on the political manoeuvring see Israeli Media Summary below.)

  • Hostage families have maintained a campaign to prioritise the captives’ release for several months. Yesterday, hundreds of protesters blocked Begin Boulevard in Tel Aviv, calling for their release. The protest saw clashes with police.
  • In parallel, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer after having first met with representatives of the hostages’ families and speaking with Qatari Prime Minister Al Thani.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior ministers maintain that a hostage deal will not signal the end of Israel’s campaign in Gaza, and that Israel will not stop short of its stated war aim of the total defeat of Hamas. There are fears, however, that it will be difficult to resume intense fighting after a protracted ceasefire.
  • Nonetheless, Israeli forces in the Strip have already been gradually reduced. At the height of the ground operation there were four divisions in the Gaza Strip. Six brigades now remain – two in the north and four in the south in Khan Yunis.

The Biden Doctrine?: The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman – a journalist close to the Biden Administration –  wrote yesterday that the president is considering “some form of US recognition of a demilitarised Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that would come into being only once Palestinians had developed a set of defined, credible institutions and security capabilities to ensure that this state was viable and that it could never threaten Israel.”

  • Biden also yesterday signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Israeli West Bank settlers involved in violence against Palestinians.
  • Four individuals have been targeted in the first round of sanctions, which include bans on entry to the US and on property and financial access in the country.
  • In the order, Biden said: “The situation in the West Bank — in particular high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction — has reached intolerable levels and constitutes a serious threat to the peace, security and stability.”
  • In response, Netanyahu said that “the vast majority of residents of Judea and Samaria are law-abiding citizens, many of whom are fighting right now in active and reserve duty to protect Israel. Israel acts against all violators of the law in all places… and therefore there is no place for drastic steps on this matter.”
  • The US previously imposed visa restrictions on those settlers proven to have engaged in violence in December 2023, but yesterday’s measures are the furthest any US president has gone in this regard.

Context: Earlier this week, US State Department spokesman Matt Miller confirmed that the administration is “actively pursuing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state – with real security guarantees for Israel, because we do believe that is the best way to bring about lasting peace and security for Israel, for Palestinians, and for the region.”

  • “There has been no policy shift in the administration. We have made quite clear publicly that we support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. That has been the policy of the United States for some time. It has been the policy of this administration.”
  • “There are any number of sequencing of events that you could carry out to accomplish that objective… We look at any number of options. That’s part of the normal planning process. The vast majority of options never usually get implemented.”
  • UK Foreign Secretary Cameron also hinted at potential UK recognition of Palestinian statehood earlier this week, saying “we have a responsibility there because we should be starting to set out what a Palestinian state would look like, what it would comprise, how it would work and crucially, looking at the issue, that as that happens, we with allies will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state, including at the United Nations. That could be one of the things that helps to make this process irreversible.”
  • The recognition of Palestinian statehood prior to a negotiated agreement being reached between Israel and the Palestinians would upend a decades-long consensus amongst Israel’s allies that recognition is the culmination of a process, not a step along its way.
  • It has generally been held that such moves surrender valuable political capital required in encouraging Palestinians to end their intransigence in future negotiations.
  • Further, there have been fears that pre-emptive recognition risks provoking dangerous and potentially violent disappointment when they fail to shift on-the-ground realities.
  • Prior to October 7, moves towards normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia were thought have been close to fruition, having been a major priority both of the Biden administration and the Netanyahu government. Part of the motivation of Hamas and its Iranian patron on October 7 was to scupper the process.
  • Riyadh reportedly had significant demands of Washington to proceed with the deal, including assistance with a (purportedly civilian) nuclear programme, sales of advanced weapons, and closer ties between the two countries whose relations had grown frostier. Biden assumed office promising to ‘get tough’ with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.

Looking ahead: A delegation representing Palestinian Islamic Jihad is also due to visit Cairo shortly to join the talks on a hostage release.

via BICom