Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has turned down pressure from the United States and declined the terms of a ceasefire in Gaza which was proposed by Hamas.
Netanyahu stated that there could be no solution to Israel’s security issues except ‘absolute victory’ over the militant group, reported the Guardian.
Netanyahu also confirmed the Israel Defense Forces’s operations in Rafah, a city located in Southern Gaza, where the population has surged due to displacement after the war.
The Israeli Prime Minister further stated that defeating Hamas would require several more months of fighting, reported The Guardian.
According to the report, he suggested that victory was “within reach” and there was no alternative to Hamas’s military collapse. Netanyahu added, “There will not be a civilian collapse of [Hamas rule] without a military one.”
Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official, stated at a Beirut news conference that Netanyahu’s ongoing military actions in Gaza indicate a goal of “genocide” against Palestinians, while a Hamas delegation led by senior official Khalil al-Hayya will travel to Cairo on Thursday to continue negotiations within the framework of Egyptian-Qatari efforts.
According to an Egyptian official speaking to Agence France-Presse, “a new round of negotiations” is set to commence on Thursday in Cairo to achieve calm in the Gaza Strip.
The deadliest round of fighting in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s history has resulted in over 27,000 Palestinian casualties, extensive destruction of neighborhoods, displacement of the vast majority of Gaza’s population, and a quarter of the population facing starvation.
Amid mounting international concern over a potential Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, UN officials have warned that such an assault would result in a “large-scale loss of life” and increase the risk of war crimes.
Netanyahu, whose popularity has plummeted in polls, asserted that Israel’s offensive would target all parts of the Gaza Strip, rejecting any agreement that would allow Hamas to retain control, whether partial or full.
During a televised press conference on Wednesday evening, Netanyahu said that “surrendering to Hamas’s delusional conditions” including a 135-day ceasefire for hostage release, would lead to another massacre and tragedy in Israel that nobody would accept.
Blinken had previously acknowledged that significant effort was required to narrow the divide between Israel and Hamas following the militant group’s extensive proposal for a permanent cessation of hostilities. However, the US secretary remained firm in his belief that an agreement between Israel and Hamas was still achievable, contending that Hamas’s proposal provided an avenue for negotiating the release of hostages.
“While there are some clear non-starters in Hamas’s response, we do think it creates space for agreement to be reached, and we will work at that relentlessly until we get there,” the US secretary said after meeting Netanyahu.
On his fifth trip to the region, since the conflict began, Blinken has been working to progress ceasefire discussions while advocating for a broader post-war agreement. This agreement would involve Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel in exchange for a defined, credible, and time-bound plan for the creation of a Palestinian state, the Guardian reported.
However, Netanyahu opposes the idea of Palestinian statehood, and there’s a risk that his hawkish governing coalition might disintegrate if he appears to be conceding too much.
What was Hamas’s proposal?
Responding to a proposal by the US, Qatar, Israel, and Egypt, Hamas had laid out a detailed three-phase plan that was meant to unfold over four and a half months. The plan, put forward on Tuesday via Qatari and Egyptian mediators, sought an end to the war after the release of all the hostages in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel including senior militants, reported the Guardian.
The proposal was seen in a positive light by a few mediators as it demonstrated the group’s willingness to engage in further negotiations to bring the war to an end.
According to a draft document obtained by Reuters, the proposal entailed that the Palestinian militants would release Israeli hostages taken on October 7 in exchange for 1,500 Palestinian prisoners. Additionally, it includes provisions for the reconstruction of Gaza, the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces, and the exchange of bodies and remains.
The proposal outlined three 45-day phases for a truce, responding to Israel’s previous offer of a six-week halt to hostilities and the gradual release of approximately 130 Israelis held captive in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
The initial phase entails the release of all female Israeli hostages, males under 19, and elderly and sick individuals, in exchange for Palestinian women and children detained in Israeli jails. The rest of the male hostages would be released during the second phase of the plan followed by the exchange of bodies in the third phase, the Guardian reported.
Hamas had expected that by the end of all three phases, both sides would have agreed to end the war and the truce would have increased the flow of food and other aid to Gaza’s 2.3 million civilians, who are facing extreme food, water, and medicine shortages.
A major takeaway from the talks so far has been how many Palestinians would be freed by Israel. In the week-long November truce, 110 Israelis were released in return for 240 Palestinians, who were mostly children and women held for minor offences in administrative detention.
Israel launched its military offensive in the Gaza Strip following a devastating attack by Hamas on October 7, resulting in the deaths of 1,200 people and the capture of approximately 250 hostages.