Differences still remain in Israel-Hamas ceasefire talks, but the gap is narrowing

For weeks, the ceasefire talks have been at a virtual standstill – not completely broken down but with little movement to report.

Hamas’s new proposal though, is a potential – albeit small – breakthrough in the deadlock.

Until now, Hamas had insisted on a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, a demand which led to the failure of securing a deal before Ramadan. Israel, with unfinished military objectives, was never going to agree to that.

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The new offer from Hamas shows the group has softened on that position and is now willing to accept an initial temporary ceasefire during which further talks would be held to extend the truce, perhaps into something permanent.

This new position is aligned with the other parties in the mediation process and notably comes after Hamas officials met with Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon earlier in the week. Qatar is said to be leaning heavily on Hamas too.

One key sticking point

In the initial phase of the deal, a six-week ceasefire would see the release of all women, children, elderly and wounded hostages including ‘female recruits’, which suggests hostages Hamas believes are IDF soldiers.

If talks to turn the ceasefire into something permanent were successful, then all remaining hostages would then be released.

In return, Hamas is said to be demanding the release of between 700 to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, including many serving life sentences.

It’s this bit that seems to be the source of continued disagreement, specifically which prisoners are released.

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Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Thursday, March 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip. Pic: AP

A source very close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu texted me this morning to say Hamas’s demands were still “delusional”, a word often used throughout this process.

However, the Hamas proposal, at least as far as we understand it, would seem to be a step in the right direction and parts of it will be tempting for the Israeli government and will certainly encourage the thousands of protesters who want the government to do a deal and bring the hostages home.

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Compromise is needed and there’s room for negotiation

The Israeli war cabinet is meeting today to discuss the latest proposal – despite appearing to initially reject it.

I would be surprised if the new Hamas position doesn’t turn out to be a platform for further negotiation in the coming days.

Israeli government sources have hinted in the past that there could be wriggle room on the number and status of Palestinian prisoners, so this might be the basis for talks to resume in a more meaningful way in Cairo or Qatar.

Differences still remain, but the gap is narrowing.

Israel believes it can wear Hamas down through military pressure and perhaps the new Hamas offer is evidence of that, but no deal will ever totally favour one side or the other.

Compromise will be needed. The question is whether Israel will decide this compromise is still not sufficient enough.