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US and Arab states push Israel to accept new deal for hostage release, end of war

WSJ: Parties willing to talk but discussions are still in early stages

Israelis whose family members are held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, attend a protest outside the PM's official residence in Jerusalem, calling for the release of the hostages. Jan. 21, 2024. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The United States, Egypt and Qatar are continuing to exert pressure on Israel and the Hamas terror group to accept a “phased diplomatic progress” that would result in the release of the Israeli hostages in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already rejected Hamas’ main condition of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, and a Hamas spokesman said there was “no real progress.”

Nevertheless, the “willingness to discuss the framework was a positive step. Mediators are now working to bridge the gap,” a source told the WSJ.

White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk is set to travel to Egypt and Qatar to discuss the progress of the negotiations, Axios reported.

McGurk is expected to meet with Egypt’s Minister of Intelligence Abbas Kamel, one of the main negotiators, and with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in the Qatari capital Doha.

The proposed outline for the deal includes three stages over the span of 90 days.

In a first stage, Israel would release hundreds of convicted Palestinian terrorists from its prisons and withdraw from the Gaza Strip in exchange for the release of the remaining 136 hostages in the hands of Hamas.

Israel would also agree to end drone surveillance over Gaza and double the amount of aid going into the enclave.

The second phase of the deal would see the release of more terrorists from prison in exchange for the bodies of hostages and the female soldiers who were killed and have been held by terrorists in Gaza.

In the third and last phase, Israeli soldiers and men, those whom Hamas refers to as soldiers because they are of fighting age, would be released.

The plan largely corresponds to reports by Israel’s Channel 13 news last week. Netanyahu already responded that he rejected the condition of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza outright.

The Egyptian negotiating team said it felt there could be some flexibility on the part of the Hamas leadership regarding certain details, but noted that it still “adheres to the principle of a total cessation of hostilities, which is a fundamental rule from which there is no retreat,” Israel’s KAN news outlet reported on Monday.

According to the WSJ, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar believes Israel will eventually prioritize the release of the hostages over the IDF's accomplishments on the battlefield and, therefore, wants to play for time to enable international pressure on Israel to continue to build.

The renewed hostage release negotiations are also said to ultimately aim at establishing a permanent ceasefire and eventually lead to the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries like Saudi Arabia with the ultimate goal of restarting the progress toward a two-state solution.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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