Israel and the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip are close to reaching an agreement that would release most of the Israeli women and children kidnapped in the October 7 attack.
Despite the absence of any official comment resolving the latest developments of the “thorny” issue, senior officials underline “the general lines of the agreement which have become clear and specific”.
On Tuesday, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius quoted a senior Israeli official as saying that “the deal could be announced within days, once the final details are worked out,” and called for the release of women and Israeli children in groups.
At the same time, Palestinian women and youth held in Israeli prisons will be released, and the official continued: “It is expected that the agreement on the exchange of hostages and prisoners will be accompanied by a temporary ceasefire, perhaps for a period of five days. allow safe travel for Israeli prisoners.”
The revelation that a deal was close to being reached came after the Israeli army announced the entry of its ground forces into Gaza city and following Hamas’ announcement that it had informed mediators of its willingness to release approximately 70 children and women over the course of five days. one day truce.
Between these two events, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said in a stunning statement on Monday: “We have two or three weeks before international pressure (on Israel) actually grows, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is making efforts to expand the margin of legitimacy, and the battles will continue as long as necessary.”
Cohen’s statements were preceded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement in an interview with US network NBC on Sunday that there was a possibility of reaching an agreement to release the hostages, as he added: “The less I talk about this problem, the greater the chance that it will be achieved.” .
“The price will be high”
The Hamas hostage issue is one of two objectives that Israel has set as primary objectives in the ongoing war in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, and the second has been defined as “to dismantle and completely eliminate the movement.”
The Israeli army estimates that around 240 people have been taken hostage in the Gaza Strip, including at least 30 minors, according to Israeli media.
It is not yet known exactly what number the planned deal will include.
According to the Washington Post, Israel wants to release all 100 women and children kidnapped by Israel, but the initial number is likely to be lower.
He noted that the number of Palestinian women and young people who might be released is unclear, but an Arab official told the columnist last week that there are at least 120 in prison.
For its part, Reuters quoted on Monday the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, as saying that Qatari mediators had attempted to release women and children held hostage by Hamas in exchange for the release of 200 Palestinian children and 75 Palestinian women, total number detained to date. November 11 date of women and children in Israel.
Israeli political scientist Yoav Stern believes that “negotiations have been taking place for several weeks, but they have not yet reached the end regarding the hostage issue.”
Stern told the Al-Hurra website: “There are some stories about the price. They talk about 80 kidnappers and a 3-day truce, and they talk about 100 kidnappers.”
Israeli officials refuse to address the issue and merely indicate that negotiations are ongoing, without addressing their content.
The Israeli analyst adds: “This is true, but the details are not definitive, and there are families and relatives in very bad psychological conditions.”
While Stern believes that “the price of the agreement will still be high,” Golan Barhoum, a professor at the Center for Public Diplomacy in Israel, explains that “the hostage issue in Israel is sacred.”
He told the “Al-Hurra” website: “Israel has historically worked a lot on this issue and concluded agreements. It is true that at the moment it wants to dismantle Hamas, but at the same time it is working on the complete release of Hamas.” the hostages.”
And he added: “Even if there were a victory on the field, the picture would not be complete. The issue is extremely delicate, because it concerns the salvation of the life that we sanctify.”
“Division in degrees”
It is not yet clear whether the “imminent agreement” will include the rest of the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip or will be limited to Hamas only.
Reuters on Wednesday quoted the secretary general of the Islamic Jihad movement, Ziyad al-Nakhalah, as saying that “the Israeli hostage negotiations could push the movement to withdraw from any agreement.”
Nakhla added: “The movement can keep the hostages it holds for better conditions.”
Former member of the Palestinian delegation negotiating the peace process, Khalil Tufakji, believes that international or local pressure on Israel “is what led to its involvement in the hostage agreement and the ceasefire in Gaza.”
Tufakji told the Al-Hurra website: “The ceasefire, if it is completed, means that we have reached the end and indicates that there is pressure, whether local, Arab or international, on Israel.”
Although Israeli forces entered Gaza City, they “did not control the entire Strip and did not enter Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia.”
Tufakji believes that the recent incursions on the ground “cannot influence the resistance factions and the negotiations they will conduct regarding the prisoners,” as he put it.
“From day one, Hamas proposed the idea of dividing the hostage issue into levels, i.e. civilians against civilians, and military personnel would be transferred to another phase.”
Tufakji continues: “There is no concession from Hamas regarding the hostage issue. The upcoming agreement will not be a weak point, especially since rockets are still being fired towards Ashkelon and Tel Aviv.”
“No one in Israel can ignore the hostage issue right now,” says Golan Barhoum, a professor at the Center for Public Diplomacy in Israel.
The researcher adds: “If an agreement for the extraction of hostages was reached with a ceasefire for a certain period, this would not amount to the cessation of military operations in the air, land and sea.”
Israel has been intensely bombing the Gaza Strip for 5 weeks, in response to the unprecedented attack launched by Hamas on October 7. Israeli ground forces are making progress in the northern Gaza Strip, while engaging in battles with the movement’s militants in Gaza City.
But now, more than a month later, “world leaders realize that Israel’s goals in this war (i.e. destroying Hamas) are unrealistic, but they want Israel to be able to claim victory regardless,” says Alexander Langlois, a American researcher focusing on Middle East affairs.
Langlois explains to Al-Hurra: “As the IDF controls Gaza City in parallel with the negotiations, we may reach a point where the West (especially the US) will pressure the Israelis to accept a Qatar-brokered hostage deal.”
The above will be similar to the 2021 Gaza war, when US President Biden said: “Enough is enough” and called for an end to it, which Israel will quickly join.
This has given Israel the ability to claim some degree of success without extending the conflict in ugly ways that would ultimately damage Israeli support and increase criticism of its supporters, according to the American researcher.
Langlois believes that “Washington has almost reached an agreement, with the help of Qatar, to free the Americans in exchange for a serious truce or ceasefire,” and this will probably not be a complete ceasefire (which could also mean that some Americans will remain detained as conscription), but rather a ceasefire: a shorter fire in exchange for most of the hostages.
Considering Cohen’s comments regarding a two- to three-week period, “the impending agreement may indicate a broader agreement in this timeline that will end the fighting and lead to a broader release process.”
However, Langlois says it “depends on many competing factors.”
These factors are: “Hamas’s willingness to release all prisoners given Israel’s refusal to release Palestinian prisoners in exchange, Israel’s interest in stopping the fighting before Hamas is destroyed, the United States’ interest in doing pressure on Israel for a ceasefire, and any serious progress.” on a peace agreement.” Wider between Palestinians and Israelis.