Apr 8, 2024 - World

U.S. delivers new proposal for Israel-Hamas hostage and ceasefire deal

Woman holding sign

Israelis take part in a rally marking six months since the Israeli-Hamas war and calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas. Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty

CIA Director Bill Burns presented in Cairo on Sunday a new proposal to advance a deal between Israel and Hamas that would secure the release of 40 hostages held in Gaza in return for a six-week ceasefire, three Israeli officials tell Axios

Why it matters: It would be the longest pause in fighting in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attacks and come under mounting international pressure for a ceasefire.

  • More than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health.
  • The deal would also include the release of at least 700 Palestinian prisoners, including more than 100 who are serving life sentences for killing Israelis.

Driving the news: CIA director Bill Burns met in Cairo on Sunday with the head of Israel's Mossad, the prime minister of Qatar and the Egyptian spy chief in an effort to break the deadlock in negotiations.

  • A senior Hamas delegation was also in Cairo at the same time and held separate meetings with the Egyptian and Qatari mediators.
  • A spokesperson for the Qatari Foreign Ministry called the meetings in Cairo "encouraging."

Behind the scenes: The Israeli officials said Burns laid out a proposal that builds on terms discussed during previous negotiations in March. It asks additional for compromises from both parties, an Israeli official said:

  • Hamas would have to compromise on the number and identity of the prisoners they want released, and to deliver a list of 40 Israeli hostages who are alive that they can release in return.
  • Israel would have to make compromises on the return of displaced Palestinian civilians to the northern Gaza Strip.

Between the lines: A key issue in the new proposal concerns Israel's demand that Hamas release 40 hostages who are alive, even if some of them do not meet the original criteria for release on humanitarian grounds, two senior Israeli officials said.

  • The first phase of the deal includes the release of women, female soldiers, men over the age of 50 and men under the age of 50 with serious medical conditions.
  • In recent negotiations, Hamas said it does not have 40 living hostages from these categories.
  • The senior Israeli officials say they believe that is accurate and that a single-digit number of hostages from other categories would be needed to reach the release of 40 hostages.

Israel proposed Hamas close the gap with soldiers or men under the age of 50 being held as hostages and Israel would release a higher number of Palestinian prisoners for each of these hostages, the officials said.

  • The officials said Israel made it clear that if Hamas agreed to commit to this aspect of the deal, Israel would agree to compromises on the issue of the return of Palestinian civilians to the northern Gaza Strip.
  • They added that the U.S. proposal includes a gradual and almost complete withdrawal of Israel from the corridor that splits the Gaza Strip and prevents Palestinians from returning to the north.
  • The proposal says that by the end of the implementation of the phase, Israeli checkpoints that prevent passage to the north of the Gaza Strip will be completely removed, one official said.
  • The Israeli official said he believes the Israeli concessions on the issue of the return of Palestinians to the northern Gaza Strip may be satisfactory for Hamas.
  • He said it is not clear though whether Hamas will agree to release hostages who are soldiers or men under the age of 50 — whom the official said Hamas views as critical to pressure Israel for a permanent ceasefire.

What they're saying: "The pressure from the U.S. has been instrumental. I can't go into the details of the proposal but I can say it bridges the gap in a way the hasn't been done in the last couple of months," al-Ansari said.

  • White House spokesperson John Kirby confirmed that a proposal had been presented to Hamas in Cairo. "We are waiting for Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar's response. It could take a few days," Kirby said.
  • The CIA didn't respond to a request for comment.

Zoom in: The issue of the return of Palestinian civilians to northern Gaza has been a main point of contention in the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

  • Hamas demands the full return of Palestinian civilians to the northern Gaza Strip and a full Israeli withdrawal from the land corridor that separates the southern Gaza Strip from the northern Gaza Strip and prevents the movement of people between the two.
  • Israel has said it would agree to the "gradual return" of Palestinian civilians to the northern Gaza Strip, but opposes the withdrawal of Israeli soldiers from the corridor. It also says it people would only be allowed to return to northern Gaza if they pass an inspection to make sure they aren't members of Hamas.
  • One Israeli official told Axios Israeli had agreed in Cairo to an additional unspecified compromise on the return of Palestinian civilians to northern Gaza.

What to watch: The Israeli security cabinet is expected to convene on Tuesday to discuss the new proposal.

  • The Hamas delegation left Cairo on Sunday night for consultations with other Hamas officials in Doha, according to a statement issued Sunday by the group. The proposal is being discussed internally with Hamas' leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, a process that could take a few days, according to senior Israeli officials.
  • A Hamas source told al-Jazeera on Monday that Israel is still making a deal difficult by not agreeing to a sustainable ceasefire and to a full pullout of its forces from Gaza.
  • The source told al-Jazeera Israel agrees to allow Palestinian civilians who were displaced to go to refugee camps in northern Gaza and not to their homes.

"We are waiting for the reply from both sides," the Qatari foreign ministry spokesman said. "If you ask me if I'm more optimistic today than I was a couple of days ago, I would say yes."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details about the U.S. proposal.

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