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Israel optimistic on ceasefire talks, as US says Biden and Netanyahu meeting likely

Hamas says it opposes foreign forces in Gaza, in a sign it may be considering postwar plans for the enclave

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during joint press conference with German Chancellor after their meeting in Jerusalem, on 17 March 2024 (AFP/File photo)

Israel’s head of Mossad left Qatar on Friday after talks with mediators on reaching a ceasefire in Gaza, with Israeli officials expressing optimism on progress.

David Barnea, Israel’s spy chief, made a sudden trip to Qatar after the US announced on Thursday that Hamas’s response to a ceasefire proposal had created space for a “breakthrough” in talks that have stalled for months.

The announcement came as fighting between Hezbollah and Israel has escalated, with US officials warning that Israel is weeks away from launching an offensive against Lebanon. If a deal is reached, it could provide an off-ramp to a major conflict. 

MEE reported last month that US envoy Amos Hochstein communicated to Hezbollah that it had roughly five more weeks to reach a ceasefire with Israel or the US would back its ally’s offensive on the Iran-backed group.

On Monday, Kamal Kharrazi, an advisor to Iran’s supreme leader, said that Tehran would “use all means” to defend Hezbollah, setting the stage for a potential clash between Iran and the US.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it would send a negotiating team for follow-up discussions next week in Qatar, saying that gaps remained. 

In a change from previous talks, however, Israel has signalled progress in the talks. The Wall Street Journal reported that Mossad officials informed countries mediating the talks that they were “optimistic” Israel’s cabinet would accept the ceasefire proposal being hashed out.

Biden ‘doing job’ 

Qatar and Egypt are mediating between Hamas and Israel. Turkey, which has also consulted with Hamas’s leadership, weighed into the discussions, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telling Turkish media he hoped a “final ceasefire” could be secured “in a couple of days”.

US President Joe Biden held a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, where the two discussed the ceasefire proposal.

On Friday the White House confirmed that Biden is likely to meet Netanyahu when he visits the US in July to address a special joint session of Congress.

Any deal that pauses fighting in Gaza would provide a foreign policy victory for Biden as he gears up for a difficult election contest with Donald Trump after a dismal debate performance that raised concerns about his age and cognitive abilities.

Biden’s Democratic Party has been riven internally between progressives critical of the US’s unconditional support for Israel’s offensive on Gaza and supporters of Israel.

“Ceasefire talks between Israel & Hamas…are moving forward again. This is what patient American diplomacy looks like. So in case you were focusing on  @POTUS drama, it might be worth remembering that he has a job to do – and is doing it,” Joel Rubin, a pro-Israel Democrat said on X, underscoring the importance to the administration of striking a deal. 

Day-after plans

The negotiations in Doha revolve around a draft ceasefire proposal that Biden unveiled on 31 May at the White House, which was subsequently endorsed by the UN Security Council.

Israel and Hamas have been negotiating the timing and precise wording of the three-phase plan. In the initial six weeks, the two would swap hostages in Gaza for Palestinians in Israeli jails.

US officials have also been working on a series of day-after plans for the Gaza Strip. Their efforts have been frustrated by Israel’s refusal to consider a return of the Palestinian Authority to the enclave.

The initial stages would include some kind of post-conflict stabilisation that the US wants led by a coalition of Arab states including the UAE, Morocco and Egypt. Netanyahu suggested he would be open to allowing Gulf states like the UAE to take on a governance role in Gaza.

Middle East Eye revealed that Bahrain, a close ally of Saudi Arabia and fierce critic of Iran, has told US officials it would be willing to send peacekeepers to the besieged enclave. The US has also considered ways to deepen Centcom’s role in Palestinian security and establish an office in Cairo to oversee security, MEE reported.

In a sign that Hamas may be considering postwar developments in Gaza, the group on Friday said it opposed any plans for foreign forces to enter the besieged enclave.