Cabinet discussions: hostage deal on the table?

Gallant, Austin and Netanyahu. Wikipedia, flickr

In recent days, a combination of the withdrawal of IDF forces from Khan Yunis in preparation for an attack on Rafah, leaving the Gaza Strip for the first time since November without active war zones – with large international pressure to increase humanitarian aid (which reached yesterday a peak of 500 trucks) and to promote a hostage deal that would include a temporary ceasefire with Hamas – led to the atmosphere that the war was on the verge of ending, or at least facing a prolonged pause. But the government’s conduct testifies differently, especially the meetings of the political-security cabinet for “complex discussions” in recent days, together with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statements: “We will complete the elimination of the Hamas battalions, including in Rafah. There is no force in the world that will stop us.”

According to various media reports, the deal currently being made in Cairo, in discussions between the heads of the Shin Bet and Mossad, on the one hand, and representatives from Arab countries representing Hamas on the other hand, will include the return of 40 live hostages to Israel (with 133 hostages currently in the Gaza Strip, with unclearness about how many of them are still alive). Israel will pay for this with some painful concessions – the release of 900 Palestinian prisoners (including 100 with ‘blood on their hands’), six weeks of total ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, and the release of at least 150 refugees from the northern Gaza Strip who fled south, to their homes in the north while crossing the ‘Netzarim corridor’, which is still being held by IDF forces. These details are not final, and at the moment it seems that Hamas will not accept them as they are – and is being pressured indirectly by the US through Qatar and other countries.

In the defense establishment, Minister Galant and Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi declared that Israel would “know how to handle” with the price of the deal. On the other hand, Finance Minister Smotrich issued a statement yesterday expressing substantive opposition to any ceasefire at this stage, especially in light of international pressure; and opposition leader Yair Lapid promised to give the government “backing” over any hostage deal that the coalition would not agree to. The discussions will now have political, geopolitical, and security implications – and in the end, a significant portion of them depends on Sinwar’s will; his answer in expected to return within the coming days.

To resopnd – rxpuyhi@gmail.com

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