You have to acknowledge Hamas’s chutzpah. As their enclave in Gaza is being pounded to dust and the terrorists are losing hundreds of fighters, they have responded to a cease-fire proposal hammered out between the U.S., Qatar, and Egypt with some ludicrous “counter-proposals” that are obviously more for propaganda purposes than any real effort to stop the fighting.
The U.S.-backed proposal is being negotiated by Secretary of State Antony Blinken who is visiting the Middle East for the fifth time since the war began. Henry Kissinger referred to it as “shuttle diplomacy” when he was trying to hammer out a deal between Egypt and Israel. Blinken probably calls it something unprintable.
The Biden proposal calls for an initial 18-week cease-fire with hostages released in stages at six-week intervals along with Palestinian civilians. During the first six weeks of no hostilities, negotiators would continue to talk about further hostage releases and other issues such as the disposition of Israeli troops when the war is over.
The Hamas counterproposal came in the form of a long letter. Biden responded to it by saying, “It seems to be a little over the top.” Biden’s gift of understatement is sublime.
In a first stage, Hamas called for the release of all Palestinian women and children under the age of 19 held in Israeli jails, along with all prisoners 50 and older, in return for a first group of civilian Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. That phase would last 45 days.
In a second stage, Hamas demanded the release of 1,500 prisoners, including 500 serving long-term sentences, in exchange for Israeli soldiers held in Gaza.
The reason those Hamas fighters are serving long sentences is that they attacked Israelis and killed many of them. Israel has exchanged hardened terrorists for the remains of soldiers before, so it’s possible that Netanyahu might at least talk about exchanging terrorists for live military hostages.
But much of the rest of the proposal is nonsense.
Hamas’s counterproposal calls for an end to the siege of Gaza, negotiations toward a lasting truce and the reconstruction of destroyed buildings in the territory. It also calls for Gazans to be allowed to return to their homes.
The future deployment of the Israeli military in Gaza is one of the stickiest points that has to be decided before a permanent cease-fire is negotiated.
Hamas isn’t demanding an immediate end to the war, and would rather allow for negotiations toward a lasting truce to play out during a cease-fire. It also hasn’t demanded an immediate Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza, instead allowing for a phased redeployment. During a first stage, for instance, Israeli forces would redeploy outside Gaza’s populated areas, according to the Hamas proposal.
Here is where Netanyahu is going to be unyielding. In order to fulfill Israel’s primary war aim of keeping Hamas from carrying out another October 7-style attack, Israel’s military is going to have to occupy Gaza, at least for the foreseeable future. And the military is not going to give up its hold on the Strip until Israel is satisfied Hamas will not rise again.
If Hamas continues to offer ludicrous proposals like this one, the war may go on until after the U.S. presidential election, complicating Biden’s position even more.