“Breakthrough” raises hopes for ceasefire agreement

David Barnea, the director of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, reportedly traveled alone to Doha to meet with Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. Momentum is building again around a possible ceasefire and hostage deal Between Israel and Hamas.

This appears to be merely a preliminary step in what could again be a complex series of talks aimed at finally bridging the gap between what Israel and Hamas each define as the floor for what would be included in a potential agreement.

After Barnea left Doha, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said a rift remained between the two sides, and Israeli officials had already said expectations needed to be lowered.

Hopes for an agreement were recently rekindled following Hamas’ response to a three-phase proposal put forward by President Biden a few weeks ago.

Key to the idea was to postpone what had long been seen as the main obstacle to either side accepting an agreement: Hamas’ demand for a permanent ceasefire and Israel’s counter-demand that it wanted the freedom to resume fighting in Gaza if necessary.

What exactly Hamas has offered has not yet been made public. But Israel’s response appeared far more positive than other instances in the past seven months when negotiations have regained momentum. An Israeli negotiating team official said the proposal put forward by Hamas included “very significant progress.”

This suggests that Hamas may have accepted the key points of the proposal announced by President Biden, namely, not calling for a ceasefire as a starting point, but allowing for negotiations throughout an initial six-week phase of the ceasefire to achieve the goal of a permanent end to the war.

Hamas has consistently resented the US in particular portraying it as the biggest obstacle to a deal, and if it turns out that Hamas has in fact made concessions, the ball would surely be thrown back into the hands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He himself has never backed down on his commitment to completely eradicate Hamas and to Israel’s right to continue fighting in Gaza after the ceasefire, and he has resisted all pressure, both inside and outside Israel, to change his stance — but the pressure is growing relentlessly from all sides.

The latest pressure appears to be coming from within his own ranks: A recent New York Times article quoted anonymous current and former security officials as saying that Israel’s top commanders “want to initiate a ceasefire in Gaza even if Hamas remains in power for the time being.”

Netanyahu has dismissed this as defeatist, but he may not be able to withstand such pressure forever – or the growing anger on the streets of Israel, where hostages remain in Gaza and want them home immediately.

On Hamas’ side, there are signs of growing desperation among Gaza’s civilians, who suffer daily as the war continues, and internationally, the patience of intermediaries such as Egypt and Qatar may be running out.

Regional countries that wholeheartedly support the Palestinian cause are also reportedly stepping up pressure on Hamas to accept the agreement, and Hamas’ leadership may feel that just the appearance of survival, even if it is greatly weakened politically and militarily, is victory enough.

The international community’s need to end the fighting has become all the more urgent as the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah threatens to escalate into all-out war. A ceasefire in Gaza could ease those tensions.

And a diplomatic success here would be a much-needed boost for a Biden administration still reeling from the aftermath of last week’s presidential debate between him and President Donald Trump.

All these factors suggest that renewed hope may this time prove more resistant to the negative factors that have dashed it in the past.

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