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Peace and Conflict

Israeli negotiators on standby to return to Egypt | Update 1st May 2024

Israeli negotiators on standby to return to Egypt via BICom

What’s happening: The Israeli negotiators are still waiting for answers from Hamas over the latest iteration of a deal to release some of the hostages.

  • Speaking earlier this week in Saudi Arabia, US Secretary of State Blinken described the proposal as “extraordinarily generous on the part of Israel”, adding “the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas.”
  • The latest proposal is being presented as an Egyptian initiative, with Israeli consent, aimed at releasing up to 33 hostages in exchange for a six-week pause in fighting.
  • The hostages are thought to include women, elderly, and ill hostages and would be exchanged for 30 to 50 terrorists held in Israeli prisons for each hostage.
  • Israel has also reportedly agreed to withdraw from the Netzarim corridor that bisects the Strip and to allow residents to return to the northern Gaza.
  • However, Hamas are thought to be continuing to demand a permanent ceasefire and an end to the war.
  • Israel is only prepared to agree to a temporary ceasefire so that it can still complete the operation in Rafah after the pause.

Threat of the ICC: In parallel there is heightened concern that senior Israeli leaders face the threat of arrest warrants being issued if they were to travel abroad.

  • The potential targets for arrest for alleged war crimes could include Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defence Minister Gallant, Chief of Staff Halevi and other Israeli politicians.
  • It is unclear how serious this threat it, but Israeli officials are working behind the scenes to prevent this.
  • Netanyahu related to this threat yesterday as “an outrage of historic proportions.” He added, “international bodies like the ICC arose in the wake of the Holocaust committed against the Jewish people. They were set up to prevent such horrors, to prevent future genocides. Yet now the International Court is trying to put Israel in the dock. It's trying to put us in the dock as we defend ourselves against genocidal terrorists and regimes, Iran of course, that openly works to destroy the one and only Jewish state.”
  • He noted, “it will also be the first time that a democratic country fighting for its life according to the rules of war is itself accused of war crimes.”
  • Adding, “it takes endless measures to prevent civilian casualties, measures that no other army takes. It does so while fighting a terrorist enemy which uses its own civilians as human shields... So, while Hamas shows no care for the lives of Palestinians and steals humanitarian aid meant for civilians, Israel is facilitating a surge of humanitarian assistance to Gaza. And we do this to ensure that the Palestinian population’s humanitarian needs are met.”
  • “Israel is not even subject to the court’s jurisdiction and it has an independent legal system that rigorously investigates all violations of the law.”
  • Netanyahu’s full remarks can be seen here.
  • The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Khan visited Israel a few months ago, when he toured the sites of the October 7th massacres and met with released hostages.
  • Israeli media has reported that the Prime Minister has asked the hostages forum to intercede on his behalf after they established a repour with Khan.
  • It is also thought that Khan would consult with the British government among others before proceeding with a warrant.  
  • In a separate / related decision the Israeli government has allowed British judges to visit captured Nukhba terrorists held in Israeli prison.

Context: For 207 days, 133 hostages are still being held captive in the Gaza Strip. It is unclear how many remain alive.

  • Whilst Israel waits for a response from Hamas, the military remains ready for an operation into Rafah, awaiting a decision by the political echelon.   
  • An operation in Rafah has been postponed at least twice already due to international pressure from Israel’s allies, but if Hamas does not take the current deal an operation appears inevitable.
  • This time, Israel has helped facilitate expanded humanitarian zones with tens of thousands of tents in preparation to move the civilian population from Rafah prior to a military incursion.    
  • The logic for a Rafah operation remains:
    • To engage, destroy, and dismantle the remaining elements of Hamas’s military structure.
    • To block the smuggling routes from Egypt, which is crucial to preventing the re-armament of the Strip.
    • To continue to hunt down the Hamas leadership which, having evaded Israeli forces elsewhere, are now seemingly underneath Rafah.
    • If Hamas refuses the latest deal, the dwindling hope remains that some hostages could still be rescued.
  • These latest indirect talks are being led by the Egyptians instead of the Qataris. Although Israel remains adamant that they will not commit to end the fighting, the Egyptians are proposing to Hamas that if this pause is successful, they can negotiate a second phased release of the remaining hostages in return for a long term ceasefire.         
  • Netanyahu is also facing increasing domestic political pressure with both the right wing and centrist flanks, pulling him in opposite directions and threatening to dismantle his coalition (see Israeli media summary below for more details).
  • In addition to political pressure, there have been ongoing public demonstrations from the hostages families and their supporters to conclude a deal.  

Looking ahead: US secretary Blinken has arrived in Israel for his ninth visit since the war began, he will meet Prime Minister Netanyahu today and also expected to update him on the potential normalisation agreement with Saudi Arabia.

  • Blinken is also scheduled to visit the Kerem Shalom crossing and see first-hand the expanded humanitarian aid entering into Gaza.  

via BICom