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Ceasefire in Gaza may be the easy part. Completing it will be harder.

Even as Hamas and the Israeli government appear to be moving closer to a ceasefire, analysts remain highly skeptical that the sides will strike a deal that goes beyond the temporary truce.

At issue is a three-phase deal, proposed by Israel and supported by the US and several Arab countries, which if fully implemented could eventually see the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza , the return of all remaining hostages taken in the October 11 attacks. 7 and territorial reconstruction plan.

But getting to that destination is impossible if the parties are unwilling to even start the race or can’t agree on where the race will end. Essentially, the debate is not just how long a ceasefire in Gaza should last or when it should be implemented, but whether Israel can accept a lasting ceasefire as long as Hamas holds on. have significant control or not.

For Israel to agree to Hamas’s demand for a permanent ceasefire in the first place, it must acknowledge that Hamas will not be destroyed and will play a role in the territory’s future, conditions which the Israeli government cannot comply with. On the other hand, Hamas said it would not consider a temporary ceasefire without the guarantee of a permanent ceasefire that effectively guaranteed its survival, even at the cost of countless lives. Palestinian lives, lest Israel restart the war once its hostages are returned. .

However, after eight months of brutal fighting, there are signs that the sides may be moving closer to the first proposed phase: a six-week conditional ceasefire. While that step is unlikely to be assured, progress toward the plan’s second phase, which envisions a permanent cessation of hostilities and a full withdrawal, is unlikely, analysts said. Israeli troops from Gaza, is even more unlikely.

“It is a mistake to see this proposal as more than a temporary measure,” said Natan Sachs, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. “Most importantly, this plan does not answer the fundamental question of who will rule Gaza after the conflict. This is a ceasefire plan, not a plan for the next day.”

The leaders of Hamas and the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are considering what the deal will mean not only for the future of the war but also for their own political futures. To gain support from skeptical partners in the early stages of the plan, Netanyahu was especially encouraged to keep his commitments to the later stages vague.

In each faction there are powerful figures willing to prolong the war. Some within Hamas say the group, dominated by those still in Gaza, such as local leader Yahya Sinwar, should not agree to any deal that does not immediately produce a permanent ceasefire. In Israel, the mere mention of a halt to the war and a full withdrawal of troops has prompted Mr. Netanyahu’s far-right allies to threaten to overthrow his government.

At a news conference Tuesday, Osama Hamdan, a spokesman for Hamas, said the group would not approve a deal that did not begin with a promise of a permanent ceasefire and include provisions for withdrawal of all Israeli troops and a “serious and serious” order. real deal” to exchange the remaining hostages for the much larger number of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel.

Shlomo Brom, a retired major general and senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, said that “it is clear to everyone that this proposal is primarily political.”

“The first phase is good for Netanyahu because some hostages will be freed,” Brom said. “But he will never reach the second stage. Like before, he will find something wrong with what Hamas does, which will not be difficult to find.”

More than 100 hostages were released a more limited agreement last November, lasting about a week. Mr. Netanyahu said Hamas had failed to produce all the female hostages as promised; Hamas said Israel had rejected alternatives. When the ceasefire expired, Hamas launched rockets at Israel. Since then, the war has continued unabated.

This time there is also no guarantee that the first phase will succeed in the second phase. Analysts agree that might suit Netanyahu, appeasing the Americans with a temporary ceasefire and increased aid to Gaza while finding reasons not to go beyond that agreement .

Netanyahu is hoping that Hamas will not agree to the proposal at all and thus let him off the hook, analysts said. As hostilities with Hezbollah heated up in the north, he proposed to his allies that even if he had to agree to the Gaza proposal, second-phase negotiations could continue unlimited.

President Biden, who introduced the plan from the White House last week, has his own political considerations in getting all sides to agree, sooner or later. Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment, said it’s clear he wants to stop the war in Gaza before November’s presidential election, adding, “The only party in a real hurry is Biden ”.

Therefore, Mr. Biden is pressing both Mr. Netanyahu and Hamas to quickly accept the agreement.

As Israeli troops have reached the Egyptian border and major operations of the war are over, the president said Hamas is no longer capable of carrying out an October 7-style attack and is pushing Netanyahu to go public. accept your own proposal.

Mr. Netanyahu has done his best to confuse his intentions, denying that his goal of destroying Hamas has changed and refusing to support a permanent end to the fighting, which he calls “ no start” on Sunday.

Mr. Biden also emphasized that Hamas “should implement the agreement,” which they have not accepted, saying only that they view the proposal “positively.”

This proposal, as explained by Mr. Biden and his officials, has three stages.

In the first phase, both sides will implement a six-week ceasefire. Israel will withdraw from major population centers in Gaza and some hostages will be released, including women, the elderly and the wounded. The hostages will be exchanged for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, whose names are still being negotiated. Aid will begin flowing into Gaza, amounting to about 600 trucks a day. Displaced Palestinian civilians will be allowed to return to their homes in northern Gaza.

In the first phase, Israel and Hamas will continue negotiations to reach the second phase: a permanent ceasefire, the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza, and the release of all surviving hostages. Mr. Biden said that if negotiations last more than six weeks, the first phase of the ceasefire will continue until they reach an agreement.

If they ever do.

Israeli officials from Mr. Netanyahu on down have emphasized that Israel must maintain security control over Gaza going forward, making it highly unlikely that they will agree to a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the buffer zone they have built. built inside Gaza. And even if they did, Israel would still insist on having the ability to enter and exit Gaza whenever it deems necessary to fight remaining or reconstituted Hamas fighters or other militants, as they do now. working on the West Coast.

As one former senior intelligence officer bluntly put it: “There are no good solutions here and everyone knows it.”

Stopping the war without ensuring that Hamas cannot return is a real dilemma, he said. But is it realistic to expect that continuing the war will achieve this goal? The release of the hostages – an estimated 125 of whom are still being held by Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza, although dozens are believed to be dead – is a top priority, but it is unclear whether Whether continuing the war will increase pressure on Hamas remains to be seen. make a deal for freedom or put the hostages still alive in more danger. And even if Israel stops the war after months of captivity, their release could take longer than it currently does.

The timing may also be right for reaching an agreement in the first phase, as Israel is fighting to complete military control of Rafah, in the southern tip of Gaza, and on the Egyptian border. Israeli officials say the fighting, which Israel is waging with fewer troops, less bombing and more concern for civilians after American pressure, is expected to last another two or three weeks, nearly equal to the time needed to negotiate the first phase of a ceasefire. -fire agreement.

The Israeli army is moving slowly into the more densely populated areas of Rafah city, pushing displaced civilians further west, towards the coast and areas officially designated as safe spaces , even as housing, water, food and health care are at their best and civilians continue to be displaced. died from Israeli attacks.

According to Israeli officials and the Institute for the Study of War, Conflict tracking, “Israeli forces continue clearance operations in central Rafah” and “targeted, intelligence-based operations.” They raided what Israel called an “active combat complex” on Monday and carried out drone strikes and airstrikes on what it called “weapons production sites.” of Hamas in Rafah”. Hamas militants responded with mortars along the border, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.

With Hamas effectively disbanded as organized units and fighting almost exclusively as small groups, Israel could declare major war in the region, analysts say. Gaza ends, while continuing to fight Hamas and other militants where they appear or remain concentrated, paving the way for a temporary ceasefire.

“Israel has done a lot when Hamas has been in serious decline,” Mr. Sachs said. But Israel took no measures to manage Gaza when the army withdrew.

Brom agrees that the Israeli military has made real progress. “My interpretation,” he said, “is that Hamas’s military and terrorist capabilities are seriously weakened.” He said it was always difficult to declare victory in such an asymmetric conflict. “Are we victorious against the Islamic State? It still exists and operates” but has been much reduced.

Despite constant US urging, Netanyahu has refused to decide who or what should govern Gaza, if not Hamas, analysts said.

“It should have been an integrated political and military strategy, but the political aspect was completely missing,” Brom said. “We can prevent Hamas from ruling Gaza but who will replace them? That was the Achilles heel of the whole operation.”


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