Feb 6, 2024 - World

Biden: Hamas response to hostage deal proposal "a little over the top"

President Biden at the White House in January 2024. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Biden at the White House in January 2024. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Biden on Tuesday said that Hamas' response to the most recent hostage deal proposal seemed a "little over the top," after Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani expressed optimism over what he said was the militant group's generally positive answer.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is pushing for a hostage deal with a prolonged pause in the fighting in Gaza that could allow aid groups to address the dire humanitarian crisis in the enclave and buy time for a regional diplomatic initiative that ends the war.

What they are saying: "We dealt with the proposal with a positive spirit," Hamas said, stressing the response was given after all internal consultations inside the group were concluded.

  • Hamas said it still demands that any hostage deal include a comprehensive ceasefire that would end the war in Gaza and lead to a reconstruction effort and the lifting of the siege.

Yes, but: Israel has said it won't commit to ending the war as part of any deal.

  • The Israeli Prime Minister's Office issued a statement on Tuesday that was attributed to Israel's Mossad intelligence agency confirming it had received Hamas' response and was studying it "thoroughly."
  • A source with direct knowledge told Axios the Qatari prime minister spoke on Tuesday with Mossad director David Barnea and later sent him the document with the Hamas response.
  • An Israeli official told Axios that Hamas' response had some positive aspects and some negative aspects but Israel sees it as an opening position for negotiations.

State of play: The Qatari prime minister said in a press conference with Secretary of State Tony Blinken in Doha on Tuesday that Hamas' response includes "some comments" but he didn't elaborate.

  • "We are optimistic and we delivered the response to Israel…we hope to reach a deal as soon as possible," he said.
  • The source with direct knowledge said the Hamas response was highly detailed with specific comments for every clause of the proposal.
  • Blinken said the Biden administration believes an agreement "is possible and essential" and stressed that "the best path forward towards calm is through a hostage deal."

Biden, however, separately said that while "there is some movement [on the hostage deal negotiations]," Hamas' response "seems to be a little over the top."

  • "We are not sure where it is going and we continue to negotiate," he added.

Details: Qatari and Egyptian mediators presented Hamas with a framework for negotiations for a three-phase deal late last month.

  • Under that framework, the first phase would include a six-week ceasefire and the release of a set number of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Hamas freeing 35 to 40 Israeli hostages, including women, men over the age of 60 and those with serious medical conditions, according to Israeli and Qatari officials.
  • The terms of the following two stages haven't been agreed on but the second phase is expected to include the release of Israeli soldiers and civilian men under the age of 60 from captivity in Gaza, according to a senior Israeli official.
  • The third phase would include the return of bodies of hostages being held by Hamas, the official added. Israel says it believes that dozens of the more than 130 hostages still being held in Gaza either died on Oct. 7 or in the weeks since then.

The big picture: Blinken said on Tuesday the U.S. wants to use any pause in the fighting to build plans for the day after the war — mainly when it comes to "a diplomatic way forward for peace in the region." That could include a historic peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

  • He said such a way forward must include an "irreversible path for a Palestinian state."
  • Blinken said he discussed this with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on Monday and with Egyptian and Qatari leaders on Tuesday. He added he will also discuss this with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel on Wednesday.
  • "The Saudis want to pursue normalization. This will demand an end to the conflict in Gaza" and the creation of a pathway for an eventual Palestinian state, he said.

Go deeper: Biden tells Bibi he's not in it for a year of war in Gaza

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

Go deeper