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War on Gaza: Netanyahu accused of sabotaging ceasefire efforts

New ‘non-negotiable’ demands published by the PM derail talks at a sensitive juncture, Israeli officials and mediators say
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem on 5 June 2024 (AFP/Gil Cohen-Magen)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem on 5 June 2024 (AFP/Gil Cohen-Magen)

Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of attempting to sabotage ongoing Gaza ceasefire talks by issuing a new set of “non-negotiable” demands. 

The Israeli prime minister published his five red lines on Sunday night ahead of crucial indirect talks with the Palestinian group Hamas through mediators set to take place in Doha later this week. 

He said any deal must allow Israel to return to fighting until all “goals” of the war are achieved, some of which are seen as unachievable by the Israeli military. 

Hamas has sought guarantees that an initial pause would eventually lead to a permanent end to the war.   

Secondly, a deal should make it impossible to smuggle weapons to Hamas via Egypt, Netanyahu added.

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This clause was not previously part of the widely agreed-upon ceasefire framework backed by the US and the UN Security Council. 

His third demand was ensuring the return of “thousands of armed terrorists” in Gaza was not possible. 

Previous Israeli ceasefire proposals indicated Israel agreed to a phased withdrawal from Gaza and allowed the unconditioned return of displaced people to northern Gaza. 

Fourth, Netanyahu said Israel would “maximise the number of living hostages returned from Hamas captivity”. 

Finally, he said the outline agreed by Israel for a deal and backed by US President Joe Biden, allowed the release of Israeli captives without “harming the other goals of the war”.

'Netanyahu pretends that he wants a deal, but is working to torpedo it'

- Israeli security official

Israeli politicians and Israeli officials were surprised by the premier minister’s announcement, according to Israeli media. 

The publication of the hardened demands, which appear to walk back on previous Israeli offers, were aimed at delaying and damaging the chances of a deal advancing soon, an unmanned security source told news Israeli news site Ynet. 

The demands are "inappropriate conduct that will harm the chance of returning the abductees home", the security source told Ynet. 

Another security official told Channel 12: “Netanyahu pretends that he wants a deal, but is working to torpedo it.” 

The condition about alleged weapons smuggling via Egypt, which was not part of negotiations with Hamas, has also been criticised for harming contact with Cairo, a key mediator in talks with Hamas.

"It is harmful to the discourse being conducted with Cairo and negatively affects all talks," a source told Ynet. 

Derailing mediators' progress

Netanyahu’s statement has also reportedly angered mediators, who said his demands could derail hard-earned progress in talks in recent weeks. 

Israel and Hamas have been engaged in indirect talks since January to reach a deal that ends the war on Gaza and swaps prisoners. 

Israel has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians in the nine-month war, including at least 15,000 children and over 10,000 women. 

More than 120 Israelis are held in Gaza while Israel holds more than 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners. 

The two sides have been back and forth over a three-phased proposed outline for the agreement presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators. 

Most components of the deal have been finalised after months of negotiations.

However, details regarding the terms of a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces have been unresolved. 

Biden said Israel agreed to a permanent ceasefire and a complete withdrawal as part of the outline in its latest offer sent to mediators on 27 May, which was revealed in full by MEE

War on Gaza: Netanyahu rejects permanent ceasefire plan
Read More »

Israeli officials never explicitly said they agreed to end the war or fully withdraw from Gaza. 

Hamas officials welcomed the Biden announcement but later suggested the Israeli offer did not guarantee an end to the war. 

The Palestinian group has reportedly softened its position in recent weeks, dropping the demand for an explicit guarantee to end the war before the truce begins. 

Instead, Hamas has agreed to open-ended wording that allowed talks for a permanent ceasefire to take place during an initial temporary truce, according to media reports. 

This progress is now under threat due to Netanyahu’s recent comments, a senior official from one of the mediating countries told the Times of Israel.

The unnamed official said the Israeli prime minister was trying to sabotage the deal.

His comments “hit at the most sensitive aspect of the ongoing negotiations,” he said, adding that they “severely harm efforts to maintain ambiguity” reached in the wording of the latest offer. 

“One cannot help but conclude that they are being made for purely political purposes,” the official added.

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