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Gaza war: Ceasefire plan turns into deadly game of survival

Legend, Plan aims to end war after eight months of fighting

  • Author, Lucy Williamson
  • Role, BBC Middle East Correspondent
  • Report of Jerusalem

For the leaders of Hamas and Israel, ending the war in Gaza has become a deadly game of survival.

The conditions under which the war ends could determine to a large extent their political future and their hold on power. For Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, even his physical survival.

This is part of the reason why previous negotiations failed. This is also why the question of how to definitively end the fighting was postponed until the final stages of the plan presented Friday by US President Joe Biden.

This transition from negotiations on a limited hostage-for-prisoner agreement to discussions on a permanent ceasefire would, Mr. Biden acknowledged, be “difficult.”

But this is also where the success or failure of this latest deal will likely depend.

The United States says it has submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council supporting the ceasefire plan presented by President Biden. The three-phase plan includes ending the conflict, releasing hostages and rebuilding Palestinian territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strong domestic reasons for wanting to move forward with this deal step by step.

The first phase, as Mr. Biden pointed out, would see the release of dozens of hostages, living and dead. That would be largely welcomed in a country where the failure to release everyone held by Hamas is, for many, a glaring moral stain on Mr. Netanyahu’s handling of the war.

But Hamas is unlikely to abandon its most politically sensitive hostages – women, the wounded, the elderly – without some sort of guarantee that Israel will not simply resume the war once they return home.

Leaks, cited by Israeli media Monday morning, suggest Benjamin Netanyahu told his parliamentary colleagues that Israel would be able to keep its options open.

This option, that of resuming fighting – until Hamas is “eliminated” – is, according to some, the least of the demands of Mr. Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners.

Without their support, he risks having early elections and facing a corruption trial.

Mr. Netanyahu must keep his long-term options open, to have any chance of winning their support for any first hostage deal. Hamas leaders, on the other hand, will likely want guarantees of a permanent ceasefire from the start.

Previous agreements have collapsed into this abyss. Getting there now will depend on how much room Mr Netanyahu has with his far-right government allies to find alternatives to “eliminating” Hamas – and how ready Hamas’ leaders are to consider them.

Legend, For many Israelis, failure to free all hostages is a moral stain on the government

Mr. Netanyahu spoke this weekend of destroying Hamas’s “military and governmental capabilities” and ensuring that the group would no longer pose a threat to Israel.

Few would dispute that Hamas has suffered significant losses in terms of military infrastructure – and even, some say, in terms of public support in Gaza and control of the streets.

But there is no indication that Israel has killed or captured its top leaders Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, and letting them go free in Gaza to celebrate the withdrawal of Israeli forces would spell political disaster for Israel’s embattled prime minister.

On Monday, a US State Department spokesperson said that although Hamas’s capabilities had “gradually deteriorated” in recent months, it remained a threat and the United States did not believe that Hamas group can be eliminated militarily.

At the same time, the White House said Mr Biden had “confirmed Israel’s willingness to move forward with the terms that have now been offered to Hamas” and said the Palestinian group was now the only obstacle to an agreement.

Meanwhile, military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the Israeli army would be able to ensure Israel’s security in the event of a government-agreed truce.

However, Yanir Cozin, diplomatic correspondent for Israeli military radio GLZ, believes that Mr Netanyahu will not end the war until he can present it as a success.

“A deal that leaves Hamas is a resounding failure,” he said. “Eight months later, when you haven’t achieved any of the goals of the war – not finishing Hamas, bringing back all the hostages or securing the borders – then he doesn’t want to end the war. But he also understands that he cannot leave it before the next Israeli elections in 2026.”

“If he can say, ‘We exiled Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, they don’t live in Gaza’ – and if the people of Gaza and the northern border can return home – I think he can maintain his government United. But there are a lot of “ifs”.

It is highly unlikely that Hamas will accept the exile or surrender of its top officials. But clear divisions are emerging between Hamas leaders inside and outside Gaza.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who also served as defense minister, told Israel Radio on Monday that President Biden announced the deal “after seeing that Netanyahu only moved forward when he was certain that Sinwar would refuse.”

“How do you think Sinwar will react when he tends to agree and then is told: but be quick, because we will still have to kill you once you return all the hostages,” a- he declared.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Israelis displaced after the October 7 Hamas attacks are watching their prime minister’s next move.

Among them is Yarin Sultan, a 31-year-old mother of three who fled her home in Sderot, on the Gaza border, the morning after the Hamas attacks. She says she will not return home until Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif are free.

“This ceasefire is going to kill us,” she told the BBC. “We will release the hostages, but in a few years you will be the next hostages, you will be the next people murdered, women raped – all this will happen again. »

Additional reporting by Rushdi Aboualouf

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