Cease-Fire and Troop Withdrawal Block Gaza Peace Deal

An Elusive Peace: The Gaza Conflict Continues to Defy Resolution

by Faruk Imamovic
Cease-Fire and Troop Withdrawal Block Gaza Peace Deal
© Getty Images

In a recent development, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel described Hamas’s response to the latest Gaza peace proposal as “negative,” despite Hamas’s insistence that it was handling the proposal “positively”.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, speaking from Qatar, noted that Hamas had requested changes, some of which were “workable” and others not. A Hamas official, speaking to an Arabic television channel, claimed that their group had not introduced any new ideas and accused Mr.

Blinken of viewing the situation through an Israeli lens, even stating he “speaks Hebrew”. The Biden administration remains committed to collaborating with Qatari and Egyptian mediators to narrow the differences.

However, after extensive diplomacy, the prolonged effort to end the Gaza conflict appears stalled, with both sides maintaining inflexible stances that are unacceptable to the other. When asked at the Group of 7 summit in Italy about the possibility of reaching a deal, President Biden expressed cautious optimism, stating, “I haven’t lost hope, but it’s going to be tough”.

The Core of the Disagreement

The primary contention in the three-phased peace plan revolves around Hamas's demand for a permanent cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza before releasing most of the hostages.

Israel, on the other hand, is open to negotiating a permanent cessation of the conflict—currently in its ninth month—only after dismantling Hamas’s military and governing capabilities. This stance clashes with Hamas’s objective to survive the war and retain control over the coastal enclave.

“The hostages are the only cards Hamas has in hand as leverage against Israel, so its basic demand is maximalist,” explained Shaul Shay, a former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council and now a senior research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University in Israel.

“What Hamas wants is for Israel to withdraw and end the war, and for Hamas to continue to rule Gaza, with all that entails, while the fate of the hostages is not entirely clear”. The proposed three-phase plan would start with an immediate, temporary cease-fire, followed by a permanent end to the conflict and the reconstruction of Gaza.

It also calls for the release of all captives held in Gaza, including civilians and soldiers, in exchange for a larger number of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

A Series of Proposals and Counterproposals

The recent exchange of proposals began in late April when Israel presented a draft that Mr.

Blinken described as “extraordinarily generous”. Israel's proposal included at least two concessions: allowing displaced Palestinians from northern Gaza to return home and reducing the number of hostages to be released in the first phase from 40 to 33.

Of the over 250 people captured during the Hamas-led assault on southern Israel on October 7, which initiated the war, 116 remain in Gaza, according to Israeli officials, with at least a third confirmed dead. The October 7 assault resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,200 people in Israel, while over 37,000 Palestinians have been killed in the ongoing conflict, according to Gaza health authorities.

The figures from Gaza do not differentiate between combatants and civilians. Hamas announced on May 6 that it had accepted the proposal, but it was revealed that they had accepted an altered version. At the time, Israel indicated that significant gaps still existed between the two sides.

Weeks later, Israel responded with the latest draft, which President Biden outlined in a May 31 speech and was subsequently endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. American and Israeli officials assert that this proposal is very similar to the May 6 draft accepted by Hamas.

Israeli officials have confirmed that the proposal was unanimously approved by Mr. Netanyahu’s small war cabinet, although far-right members of his ruling coalition have threatened to collapse his government if he proceeds with it.

While Mr. Netanyahu has avoided openly endorsing the proposal, the Biden administration maintains that Israel is fully committed. An Israeli government official, speaking anonymously, stated this week that the proposal allows Israel to achieve its war goals.

“Israel accepted the proposal as it was and as it is,” Mr. Blinken reiterated in Qatar, adding, “Hamas didn’t”.

Anti-War Protest Held In Tel Aviv© Getty Images/Amir Levy

Ongoing Conflict and Political Maneuvering

Israel is approaching the possibility of concluding the conflict as its ground operation in the Gazan city of Rafah progresses.

The southernmost city in Gaza has been presented as the last stronghold of Hamas’s organized battalions, and Israel now controls the corridor along Gaza’s border with Egypt, historically a significant route for weapons smuggling into the territory.

Hamas, however, has shown resilience, re-emerging in areas of central Gaza previously cleared by Israeli forces. According to Zakaria Al-Qaq, a Palestinian national security expert, Hamas has little incentive to compromise and relinquish any future role after the conflict, especially with recent polls indicating its status as the most popular faction among Palestinians.

“Hamas doesn’t want to lose out politically while it is still standing militarily,” he said. “Their defiant staying power is their victory”. Despite reports of Israel accepting the plan, Hamas has repeatedly stated that it has only heard denunciations of the proposal and continued insistence on prolonging the conflict from Mr.

Netanyahu’s government. Hamas now demands that Russia, China, and Turkey serve as guarantors and signatories to a cease-fire in addition to American guarantees, a condition that Israel is unlikely to accept.