WASHINGTON (JTA) — Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel would achieve a “total victory” in its war against Hamas as Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he is “hopeful” that the sides are nearing an extended truce.
Blinken’s comments came while Hamas said it was considering Israel’s latest proposal for a temporary ceasefire, which would include an exchange of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian security prisoners.
Hamas has called for a total Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the release of all of the estimated 6,000 Palestinian security prisoners. But on Tuesday Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, gave a defiant speech in which he vowed that Israeli forces would not leave the territory and that not all prisoners would go free.
“We will not withdraw the IDF from the Gaza Strip and we will not release thousands of terrorists,” he said. “None of this will happen. What will happen? Total victory.”
Blinken met with the Qatari foreign minister on Tuesday to discuss the proposed deal. In a speech the previous day, Blinken did not address the details of the reported deal under consideration, brokered in recent days by CIA chief William Burns, but said he was optimistic about its prospects.
“The proposal that is on the table and that is shared among all of the critical actors – of course Israel, but also with Qatar and Egypt playing a critical role in mediating and working between Israel and Hamas – I believe the proposal is a strong one and a compelling one that, again, offers some hope that we can get back to this process,” Blinken said at a press conference with Jen Stollen, the secretary general of the NATO alliance.
“What I can tell you is this: I think the work that’s been done, including just this weekend, is important and is hopeful in terms of seeing that process resume,” Blinken said.
Reports have said the deal would suspend fighting for up to two months and would see an exchange of the remaining 136 hostages held by Hamas, some of them dead, for Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was quoted Tuesday by the New York Times as saying Hamas is considering the deal that emerged this weekend after Burns met with Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian officials in Europe. Qatar, which funds Hamas and houses its leadership in exile, and Egypt, which borders the Gaza Strip, are key interlocutors between the combatants.
President Joe Biden until now has not backed down from supporting Israel’s war aim of removing Hamas entirely from the Gaza Strip. But he is under increasing pressure to get Israel to scale the war back as it threatens to expand across the Middle East.
Lawmakers from both parties in Congress want increased oversight of the air strikes Biden has ordered against Houthi militants in Yemen, who are launching missiles at commercial vessels in the Red Sea, ostensibly to get Israel to stand down in Gaza.
That scrutiny is likely to increase as Biden considers how to strike back against an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq that sent a drone over the weekend into Jordan, killing three U.S. troops on a base.
Israel is also under pressure to roll back its counterstrikes. Last Friday, the International Court of Justice gave Israel 30 days to report on measures to mitigate civilian deaths. South Africa had taken Israel to court on charges of genocide.
Those pressures underscore the urgency Biden and his top aides are attaching to the negotiation process. The State Department statement summing up Tuesday’s meeting with the Qatari foreign minister underscored the differences between the Biden administration and Israel. The statement effusively praised Qatar, a nation Netanyahu recently derided. It also promoted the establishment of a Palestinian state, an outcome Netanyahu rejects.
Blinken “expressed gratitude for Qatar’s indispensable mediation efforts, especially since October 7,” the day Hamas terrorists invaded Israel, launching the war, killing more than 1,200 people and abducting more than 250 hostages. “Secretary Blinken underscored the U.S. commitment to a more peaceful, integrated, and prosperous Middle East region with security for Israel and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”
Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he will not countenance a Palestinian state. His top adviser, Ron Dermer, is on his way to Washington on Wednesday to discuss scenarios for the “day after” the war, Axios reported.
Blinken also wants to get assistance into Gaza at an accelerated rate, as world health officials say the territory is on the brink of starvation. More than 26,000 people have been killed since Israel launched counterstrikes following Oct. 7, including thousands of children, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry. Israel does not dispute the figures, and says about a third of the dead are combatants.