Mediators from the United States and the Middle East seemed optimistic in recent days that they were close to reach an agreement for a two-month ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and the release of more than 100 hostages taken by Hamas.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday rejected the two main demands of Hamas —that Israel withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip and release thousands of Palestinian prisoners—indicating that it persists a wide gap between both parties.
The war began after Hamas' Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel, in which fighters killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took about 250 more hostage. About half of the hostages were freed during a week-long ceasefire last November in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.
Israel's offensive has caused the death of more than 26,700 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, whose count does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. About 85% of Gaza's 2.3 million residents have fled their homes. And the UN pointed out that a quarter of the population go hungry
The conflict has also generated repercussions throughout the region. Iranian-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen have attacked Israeli and US targets in support of the Palestinians, triggering retaliation in a spiral of violence that could trigger a regional confrontation.
Below is a glimpse of the position of each of the parties To end the conflict:
Netanyahu seeks “total victory”
The Israeli Prime Minister has promised on several occasions that will continue with the war until Israel destroys Hamas's military and governance capabilities, and releases all hostages, two objectives that are increasingly difficult to achieve and that many Israelis fear are exclusionary.
In a speech Tuesday at a pre-military religious academy located in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel, Netanyahu stated that “we will not withdraw the Israeli army from the Gaza Strip and we will not free thousands of terrorists.”
That would seem to rule out any agreement with Hamas, but it could also be a stance aimed at shore up Israel's position in negotiations indirect actions that are carried out.
Netanyahu is under increasing pressure from the families of the hostages. Photo: Reuters
Netanyahu is under increasing pressure exerted by the families of the hostages and the general public to reach an agreement with Hamas for the return of the hostages. Many Israelis fear that time is running out.
At the same time, his government coalition —dominated by hardline ultranationalists who oppose a deal— could fall apart if he is perceived to be being too lenient towards Hamas.
Israeli military forces They have only successfully rescued one hostage, and Hamas says several have died in Israeli attacks or during botched rescue operations. In December, Israeli forces They mistakenly killed three hostages who had escaped and were waving a white flag.
Hamas wants an end to the war
Hamas has refused to release more hostages until Israel ends its offensive and withdraw from Gaza. Seek a broader agreement that includes a long-term truce and reconstruction.
The group's top political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said Tuesday that his priority is the “complete withdrawal” of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip. He commented that any agreement should also lead to a reconstructionhe lifting of the blockade Egyptian-Israeli over the territory and the liberation of “all our heroic prisoners.”
Hamas believed to be holding hostages in deep tunnels that are heavily guarded, using them as human shields for their main leaders and as bargaining chips for the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Among the latter are high-level fighters involved in attacks in which Israeli civilians were killed.
If Hamas releases the hostages without ending the war, would be exposed to an Israeli attack even bigger once the ceasefire expires. Failure to secure a meaningful prisoner swap could come with strong criticism from Palestinians following unprecedented death and destruction in the small coastal enclave.
Unprecedented destruction in the small coastal enclave of Gaza. Photo: JACK GUEZ / AFP
On the other hand, if Hamas achieves a long-term truce, the withdrawal of Israeli forces and the release of thousands of prisoners, would be seen as the victor of the warat least by his supporters.
Mediators seek a middle ground
The United States, which has provided crucial military aid to the Israeli offensive, largely supports Israel's war goals. Wants to all hostages be released and guarantees that Hamas will not be able to commit an attack like the one on October 7 again.
But President Joe Biden's administration also has a great interest in ending a war that has generated regional instability and divided Democratic voters during an election year.
Arab countries, including main mediators Egypt and Qatarhave insisted on a ceasefire since the early days of the war, fearing further instability.
Palestinians flee the city of Khan Yunis towards southern Gaza. Photo: AP
The United States and Arab mediators They seem to be looking for a middle ground. in which the hostages are released in phases over a period of two months in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, let the entry of more urgent humanitarian aid to Gaza y a partial withdrawal of the Israeli forces.
A two-month respite could buy some time to negotiate a broader agreement to address the long-standing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
American and Arab diplomats have talked about a possible grand deal in whiche Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel and would join other Arab countries and the Western-recognized Palestinian Authority to help rebuild and govern Gaza, in exchange for a credible path to the creation of a Palestinian State alongside Israel.
But Netanyahu, whose government opposes a Palestinian state, and Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, They have also ruled out that possibility.