Hamas Sends Updated Response to Biden's Hostage Deal, Israel Claims Major Progress

The Israeli Army via AP

On Wednesday, Israel announced it had received an updated response from Hamas on the ceasefire proposal Biden announced. 

Negotiations had been at a deadlock for weeks since the proposal, which Biden claimed was Israel's idea, was announced. Once Israel returned from the Sabbath and was able to respond to the announcement, they promptly declared it was a non-starter because it called for the end of the war. Hamas, of course, claims they won't negotiate anything less. It was puzzling to see Israel have to "agree" to the terms of "their" proposal and then decline them. 

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to speak with Biden over the phone on Thursday, July 4th, regarding the new developments. Some Israeli officials say significant progress has been made, but there is still a long road ahead. Of course, if we have learned anything in the last six months of negotiating deals it's that we will believe anything when we see it. 

Key changes in Hamas's response are that they have provided flexibility in Articles 8 and 14 of the proposal, which were the largest points of disagreement between the two parties. Article 8 covers the six-week pause in exchange for hostages. Article 14 covers the potential removal of the IDF completely from the Gaza Strip. 

According to Axios, the gap between the two on Article 8 is that Hamas wants the number and identity of those exchanged to be the only thing discussed, while Israel wants to include measures to deradicalize Gaza during this phase. If these reports are true, it seems like this would be an easy compromise for Israel.

On Article 14, it's more complicated. Originally, Hamas wanted Israel to remove itself completely from the strip. They refused. Now, Hamas has offered a compromise:

"...[the] plan reportedly says that Israel will withdraw troops from the Rafah Crossing area in agreement with Egypt, provided there is an understanding over the management of the border point, but without having to fully withdraw from the key Philadelphi Corridor.

It has seemed that all the recent hostage deal plans proposed would have put Israel at a significant disadvantage. Benny Gantz, head of the National Unity Party, left the war cabinet mere hours after the celebration of the historic rescue of four hostages, including Noa Argamani. In an interview afterward, he stated that he was in favor of a "year or two-year-long" ceasefire in exchange for the hostages. This would be detrimental to achieving the goal of total victory, defeating Hamas, and restoring safety to Israel's borders.

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Prime Minister Netanyahu has faced criticism on all fronts, but so far he has held strong to the goals that secure a better future for Israel. Every time a less convicted politician, like Gantz, makes ill-advised suggestions that would save this conflict for another day in Israel's future, it's hard not to tremble anxiously. The only thing worse than this tragedy for Israel would be to not resolve it decisively with wisdom and strength or to cow to international pressure and make decisions that will negatively affect Israel's future.

The new developments of this deal provide a sliver of hope that something positive could move forward. It also potentially shows that Hamas is starting to sober up. Netanyahu's staying firm has sent the message this this war will not end without his terms met. Nothing could be more important than his continued concrete stance. While Israel has agreed to some flexibility, they have been careful to leave the right of action open. 

“It is possible to bring back the soldiers, the women, the children, the injured, the sick, the elderly,” said the official. “And there is an off-ramp to return to the fighting if Hamas violates the terms of the agreement. There is the foundation for a good deal.”

Israel's negotiation team will discuss the response with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Gallant and decide whether to enter detailed negotiations in Qatar or Egypt. The best possible outcome would be for a deal that sees the release of the hostages in a reasonable time frame and does not require the IDF to withdraw from the Strip. Hamas cannot win this war unless Israel quits. They know that and are using these negotiations, combined with the international pressure, to attempt to persuade Israel to give up. As long as Netanyahu is in the seat of leadership, we can expect that to never happen. 

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