analysisIsrael at War

Debate deepens in Israel over Biden’s multi-stage truce framework

U.S. ambiguity is part of an effort to bridge the "large gap" between the sides and allow the implementation of at least the first stage of a ceasefire, experts tell JNS.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the 42nd Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on May 15, 2024. Credit: Tia Dufour/U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the 42nd Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on May 15, 2024. Credit: Tia Dufour/U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

Five days after U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled a multi-stage outline for a hostage release deal and ceasefire, debate within Israel has intensified over the costs and merits of the plan, as well as the extent to which Biden’s claim that this is an Israeli proposal reflects reality. 

Biden’s three-staged proposal envisages a temporary truce lasting six weeks to enable the release of tens of Israeli hostages in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners, and a return of Gaza civilians to the north of the Strip. This would be followed by a second phase, according to Biden, during which Israel and Hamas would negotiate an end to the war, and this phase could be stretched out for as long as talks continue. A third phase would see significant investment and reconstruction in Gaza.  

On Tuesday, Kan 11 reported that the Israeli War Cabinet had unanimously agreed to ask Washington to provide assurances that Hamas would not be allowed to stretch out the talks as part of an effort to avoid a resumption of the war and a completion of the deal. “In Israel, there is concern over a scenario in which the United States will not provide backing for a resumption of the war, and there are now demands for assurances on this issue” said the report. 

Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the Research and Assessment Division of Israel’s Military Intelligence and a senior research fellow at Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy, told JNS that “Biden took the plan that Israel presented for making progress towards a solution [to] the hostage issue and turned it into roadmap for Middle East ‘peace.’”

Under the Israeli vision, he said, the second phase of the plan was supposed to lead to the release of all remaining hostageswithout leaving Hamas in charge of Gaza.

“Biden’s plan proposes that during and after stage two, Hamas will rule Gaza, unless it’s willing to share power with others. Hence, Biden’s plan leaves Hamas in charge,” said Kuperwasser. “This is in direct contradiction of Israel’s position that the war does not end until Hamas is dismantled as Gaza’s ruler,” he added. 

“Biden suggests we trust the assumption that Hamas is so weakened that it can’t launch another Oct. 7 attack, and that it has given up on rebuilding its forces,” he said. “It’s clear that both of these things will occur if Hamas is allowed to remain in power.”  

According to Kuperwasser, there is a large gap between the situation on the ground in Gaza, where the Israel Defense Forces is winning against Hamas, and the public perception that Israel is treading water.

“On the ground we are winning, but we are not translating this victory into a decisive outcome,” he said. “A decisive outcome means taking military achievements and translating that into Israel or elements on its behalf ruling the Strip. Instead, the IDF has been defeating Hamas then retreating. We left the vacuum into which Biden is entering,” he added.

“It seems as if the Israeli military establishment wants to win the war but is not ready to pay the price that goes along with a decisive outcome.”

On Wednesday, Egyptian, American and Qatari officials were reportedly scheduled to meet in Doha, Qatar, to advance negotiations. CIA Director William Burns is reportedly scheduled to arrive in the area in the coming days to also try to advance contacts.  

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told French President Macron on Tuesday that Israel’s understanding of the proposal allows it to “achieve all of the war’s objectives that it defined, including Hamas’s elimination.” 

“Alongside freeing the hostages, that was and remains Israel’s fundamental objective in the war, and it is determined to achieve it,” said Netanyahu. 

Professor Boaz Ganor, president of Reichman University and founder of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, told JNS that not all of the details of the framework have been publicized, and that it is reasonable to assume that there are many additional issues left to iron out. 

It appears, however, that “the Americans are trying to bridge over a central and deep gap between the sides—the ultimate demand made from the start by Hamas that the deal lead to the end of the war and to an Israeli withdrawal, as opposed to the firm Israeli position, which holds that after the deal, and certainly so long as the deal is not completed or is delayed maliciously by Hamas, Israel will be able to continue the war in Gaza,” he said.

The U.S. effort includes ambiguous phrasing, such as calling for an end to combat activity but not an end to the war, and various promises, some of which are contradictory, made to both sides in an effort to reach an agreement that will “at least enable the first stage of the deal,” said Ganor. 

It appears that at this stage, Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar “has not yet reached breaking point, in which he is willing to abandon or mute his strategic goal, and he could even be convinced that continuing the war will harm Israel and its international standing more than it will damage Hamas,” he said.

According to Ganor, it also appears as if the Israeli government has not reached the conclusion that an end to the war is an Israeli interest, even if it might end up advancing a comprehensive deal vis-à-vis Hamas. 

“Over all of this hovers mutual suspicion, according to which Sinwar does not believe Israel will refrain from renewing the war despite promises by intermediaries,” while Israel remains deeply suspicious that Hamas will continue to deceive Israel and the entire world and refrain from releasing all of the hostages and the bodies of dead hostages, he said.

Ganor added that Hamas would thus likely try to stretch out the entire process, while sniping at the IDF and trying to attack Israel from other arenas. 

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