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EX-HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR WARNS THAT THE HAMAS CEASEFIRE PROPOSAL COULD BE A “NON STARTER” FOR ISRAEL

Hamas has proposed a four-and-a-half month-long ceasefire plan in Gaza under which all hostages would be released, but which includes “non-starters” for Israel including an end to the war, a former Israeli negotiator has warned.

The Hamas proposed 135-day Gaza truce comprises three phases lasting 45 days each, according to a draft document seen by Reuters. It would see militants exchange the remaining Israeli hostages captured on 7 October for Palestinian prisoners, the beginning of reconstruction in Gaza and the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces.

Under phase one, all female hostages, males under 19, and the elderly and sick would be released. Soldiers, male hostages, and the bodies of those killed would follow under phases two and three.

The proposal brought by Hamas is a counteroffer to the proposed framework formulated in Paris on 28 January by Israeli, American, Qatari and Egyptian officials, and conveyed to Hamas by Qatar.

The original framework was not officially published but was thought to provide for an extended pause in the fighting in exchange for the staggered release of the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

A source close to the negotiations told Reuters that the proposal did not require a guarantee of a permanent ceasefire at the outset, but that an end to the war would have to be agreed during the truce before the final hostages were freed.

However, Gershon Baskin, a former Israeli hostage negotiator, said he did not envision Israel agreeing to the terms from Hamas as they presently stand.

“Ending the war without a victory for Israel, or withdrawing troops, is a non-starter [for Israel],” he told i, saying that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a “hostage to his government” filled with far-right ministers who have pushed back against a Gaza ceasefire.

“The one way that I see that Israel could potentially call an end to the war is if they kill or capture the main [Hamas] leadership in Gaza,” Mr Baskin added. “That would be their victory picture.”

The Hamas proposal does, however, provide a good starting point for Israel and negotiators to manoeuvre around.

“Hamas doesn’t compromise on substance, they compromise on the margins, on the logistics, so if they’re saying that long of a ceasefire [4.5 months] they’d probably be willing to compromise on a two-month ceasefire, or a three-month ceasefire, that’s where there’s room for negotiations,” Mr Baskin said.

“And then it depends on how much leverage the Qataris and the Egyptians are able to put on Hamas – and on Israel, but mainly on Hamas. That’s where the leverage could work.”

It comes after Israel confirmed on Tuesday that 31 of the more than 130 hostages still being held in Gaza were pronounced dead.

“We have informed 31 families that their captured loved ones are no longer among the living and that we have pronounced them dead,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said.

However, reports suggest the number of dead hostages could be much higher than what is being publicly acknowledged. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that as many as 50 hostages may be dead, according to an Israeli assessment shared with American and Egyptian officials. Israel has not publicly commented on the report.

“Those are numbers I’ve heard behind the scenes in Israel,” Mr Baskin said of the Journal report. “The Israelis are saying the official number is 32, but the number is probably bigger, and the longer they’re in Gaza the more they are likely to be killed.”

The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has arrived in Israel after meeting the leaders of Qatar and Egypt in his fifth Middle East diplomacy tour since the war in Gaza began.

He is set to discuss Hamas’s counterproposal with Mr Netanyahu, but things got off to a shaky start before the meeting has even begun.

Mr Blinken has requested to meet Herzl Halevi, the Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), privately without Israeli cabinet ministers present, but this was rejected by Mr Netanyahu, the Israel Hayom newspaper reported.

“This is unprecedented, both the request of an American secretary of state to meet privately with the Israeli army chief of staff and also the prime minister of Israel saying to the secretary of state ‘no you can’t’,” said Mr Baskin.

ALSO READ: US SECRETARY OF STATE BLINKEN SOLICITS A PAUSE IN GAZA WAR TO ALLOW FOR AID.

Washington has cast the hostage and truce deal as part of plans for a wider resolution of the Gaza conflict, ultimately leading to reconciliation between Israel and Arab neighbours and the first steps towards the creation of a Palestinian state.

But Mr Netanyahu has rejected any notion of a Palestinian state, much to the chagrin of the US which has been told by Saudi Arabia that there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognised.

Mr Nentayhu “is finished anyway”, Mr Baskin surmised.

“When this war ends, or when we have an extended ceasefire, there will be calls for new elections… He will no longer rule Israel.

“Netanyahu’s dream, his self-image, his narcissistic view of himself as being the greatest leader of the Jewish people since Moses, will be reversed into being the worst leader of the Jewish people in all of its history.”

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