Resuming the hostage talks: straightening the line

Netanyahu. Wikipedia, Kremlin

today (Tuesday), negotiations for the return of the hostages with Hamas are expected to resume, mediated by Egypt or Qatar. 125 Israeli hostages remain in the Gaza Strip, of whom 39 are killed for sure – and after nearly eight months of war, the public pressure to return them is increasing. The publication of the video last week by the families of the five observers from the Nahal Oz outpost of the obduction of their girls, who are still in the Gaza Strip, undoubtedly contributed to this urgency. And so, despite the failure of the negotiations less than a month ago, in a way that led to the start of the ground maneuver in Rafah, Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the negotiating team to resume its operations, with Israel reportedly “going very far” in its proposals for Hamas, more than in previous times – although the exact details are still unclear.

Two major obstacles must be overcome on the way to opening the negotiations. First, an internal obstacle – in light of the friction between the government and the negotiating team led by General Nitzan Alon, the director of the intelligence effort, which according to some media bodies criticized the government. In addition, the government should present a uniform front with regard to the policy toward the return of the hostages and the importance of this goal in relation to others – something that is now in dispute between the members of the Likud and the members of the Mamlachti Camp. It seems that the government has managed to overcome this obstacle, and the issues will be aligned with General Alon.

But the external obstacle is more challenging: After the attack in the northern Rafah, which killed 2 senior Hamas members of the West Bank, together with a few dozen others who were not involved, Hamas tried to take leverage of the situation and claimed that it would not even go to negotiations while the maneuver continued in Rafah (when, of course, its demand for an end to the war before a deal is in place). Internationally, this attack, which has received particularly negative media attention, may limit the ability and desire of other countries to exert pressure on Hamas. From the perspective of the intermediary countries, there was a shooting incident yesterday in front of Egyptian soldiers at a point on the border, and one Egyptian soldier was killed by IDF fire, an event to which the Egyptian government and public have not yet responded.

Despite the obstacles and challenges, the negotiating team is optimistic on their way, hoping to bring Israel a significant achievement. As Netanyahu said yesterday in his speech in front of the Knesset: “I received five requests from the negotiating team to expand the mandate, and approved them all… Members of Knesset, citizens of Israel, we should exert pressure only against Hamas. We are doing this, fighting forcefully in the center of the Gaza Strip, in the northern Gaza Strip and in the southern Gaza Strip. I will continue to fight, until we raise the flag of victory.”

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