Hostage Negotiations: Is an Agreement Imminent?

An agreement that will lead to the release of a group of people kidnapped in the Gaza Strip is “close to completion.” Such confident statements were made in the Israeli media on Tuesday morning; So they came from people involved in negotiations with Hamas, which are being conducted indirectly, through Qatar.

Various statements were made overnight, raising hopes among families that at least some of those abducted might soon return. American President Joe Biden promised an agreement “soon.” John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said they were “closer than ever before” to a solution. Izzat al-Reshiq, a Hamas politburo member, even told Al Jazeera that Qatar would announce details of the agreement “within a few hours.”

Al-Reshik said the agreement would likely lead to the release of Israeli women and children held in the Gaza Strip. In exchange, Israel will release Palestinian women and children from Israeli prisons. Other reports said between 50 and 100 hostages were due to be released. Up to 240 people abducted by Hamas and other Islamist groups in the Gaza Strip on October 7 may still be alive there. The number of Palestinian prisoners to be released was estimated at between 150 and 300. In addition, the five-day ceasefire should apply to the Gaza Strip.

Parts of the Israeli leadership are against the ceasefire

However, it appears that such details are still hotly debated. Kirby also warned that the following provision still applies: “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” One point of contention appears to be Hamas’ demand that no Israeli aircraft be allowed to fly over the Gaza Strip during the five-day lull in fighting. This point illustrates the fundamental considerations that guide both sides in a negotiation.

Hamas wants to take a break to recover from the heavy blows that the Israeli army has been inflicting on it for several weeks – first with massive airstrikes and, since late October, with ground troops. For this reason, part of the Israeli leadership opposed granting Hamas a longer ceasefire. The group, led by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Chief of General Staff Herzl Halevi, claimed, according to media reports, that increased military pressure would force Hamas to make greater concessions regarding the hostages. In recent days, there have been controversial discussions in the War Cabinet on this issue.

Relatives of the abducted also play a role. They have been fighting for weeks to ensure that public pressure on the government does not weaken. Their demand is that Israel’s single overriding goal must be the return of abductees home. The destruction of Hamas in the Gaza Strip should not take precedence over this goal. On Monday evening, the Israeli war cabinet met with the families in Tel Aviv, something they have repeatedly sought. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time that returning the abductees was a “sacred mission” for Israel. “We will not rest until we complete our mission,” he said. “Together with my colleagues, I am responsible for the release of the hostages.”

Relatives of Netanyahu hostages disappointed

However, there was some discontent among relatives. Discord began immediately after the meeting began: some relatives were denied access to the military headquarters, allegedly due to lack of space. Ultimately, all family representatives who came were allowed in. However, some of them were so upset by what they heard during the three-hour meeting that they left during the conversation.

Netanyahu, according to some in the Israeli media, said that the goal of destroying Hamas was on par with the goal of returning the abducted. Udi Goren, whose cousin was kidnapped on October 7, called it an “incredible disappointment.” After all, we know that “dismantling Hamas, as we keep hearing from it, will take months or years.” Others expressed outrage that it appeared that only women and children should be released for now. They fear that other abductees will not have a second chance.

The breach of the agreement between Israel and Hamas that is currently emerging was also reported on Tuesday by Police Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. In a statement, the leader of the ultranationalist Jewish Power party said Israel was on the verge of making the same mistake it made in freeing Gilad Shalit. A soldier kidnapped by Hamas was exchanged for a large number of Palestinian prisoners in 2011. Looking at the current situation, Ben-Gvir said he was concerned about “a deal that could lead to disaster.”

Source: Frantfurter Allgemeine

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