Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90

Hamas finally sets out their demands in exchange for releasing the 136 living-and-dead Israeli hostages dragged to Gaza from their homes. Is there anywhere to go from here?

This is a segment from The “Negotiating With Terrorists” Edition.


Now it’s time for our first discussion.

So Miriam, Hamas apparently gave some sort of answer about a possible hostage release deal.

Is there a there there? – Yeah, it did.

And we’re not so sure.

The day before yesterday, as we’re recording, Hamas finally laid out its proposal for a deal that would lead to the release of the 136 hostages that it has held captive in Gaza since October 7th.

That number includes at least 31 who are dead, according to the IDF, and possibly another 20 dead, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Most of them killed on October 7th, but some killed or murdered since then.

The Hamas proposal comes at rather a delay after a draft proposal that’s being called the Paris Framework was negotiated by representatives of the governments of the United States, Qatar, Egypt, and Israel.

It called for hostages to be sent home to Israel in two three to 45 day phases, during which all fighting between the IDF and Hamas would stop.

In the first phase, wounded hostages, women and elderly men would be released.

The second phase would see the release of everyone else.

In both phases, for each Israeli released, a number of Palestinians held in Israeli jails and prisons would be released, the precise ratio of which remained to be fixed, though estimates run from three Palestinians for every Israeli to a hundred Palestinians for every Israeli.

Among the Palestinians released would be terrorists convicted of murdering civilians.

It took Hamas leaders over a week to respond to the Paris Framework, and at least according to media reports, they had this counter proposal.

Hamas will free hostages in three 45 day phases with a break of at least a week between phases.

In the first phase, women, males younger than 19, and the elderly and sick would come home.

In exchange, Palestinian women and minors would be released from Israeli jails, in numbers yet to be determined.

In the break after this phase, according to the Hamas counter proposal, the sides would hold indirect talks over the requirements needed to end the mutual military operations and return to complete calm.

In the second phase, the remaining male hostages would come home.

In the last phase, the dead would be returned.

During each of the last two phases, more Palestinians jailed in Israel would be freed, including terrorists responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis.

One of the many important things that are not clear at the moment is whether when Hamas demands an end to mutual military operations and a return to complete calm, it means a permanent end to the war until months or years down the line, Hamas chooses again to attack Israel, or whether it means a temporary end of the war as the captive Israelis and jailed Palestinians are released.

This question matters as Israel’s government has said that it will not sign any agreement that prevents them from continuing the war on Hamas.

Hamas has said through Qatari officials that they would not sign any agreement that does not include an Israeli commitment to a permanent ceasefire, again, until Hamas chooses to break it.

But some observers, including CNN this week, suggest that Hamas might compromise on this demand on the assumption that after five months of “temporary ceasefire” to allow for the three phases and the weeks off in between them, international pressure will prevent Israel from resuming the war.

What seems clear is that Hamas expects what it has proposed to allow the organization to stay in charge of Gaza, which state of affairs, Benjamin Netanyahu, his government, and a good part of the opposition all insist is unacceptable.

Still, here in Israel, the politics behind a hostage release agreement are complicated.

A recent poll done by the Israel Democracy Institute shows that most Israelis think that bringing the hostages back is the most important goal of the war.

Almost one and a half times as many Israelis believe this than believe that toppling Hamas is the most important goal.

But among the parties in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, the opposite is true.

A big majority hold that crushing Hamas is more important than bringing back the hostages.

Among religious Zionists, a group that Netanyahu needs to hold onto power, 77% think the first priority is destroying Hamas on the battlefield, compared to only 19% who think that the first priority is returning the hostages.

What’s more, Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, we’ll be talking about him in our next discussion, has said that if Netanyahu stops the war in order to bring back the hostages, he and the eight Knesset seats he controls will leave the coalition.

Such considerations may or may not have been on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s mind when last night, as we record, he rejected Hamas’s counter-proposal as delusional, saying it not only would not bring about the freedom of the hostages, but it would only invite an additional slaughter.

He insisted that Israel is, quote, “within touching distance of absolute victory.”

US President Biden called the Hamas position a little over the top, and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, shuttling through the region right now, said that Hamas’s response had its problems, but still, quote, “creates space for agreement.”

Noah, we don’t know everything there is to know about these negotiations and what’s on the table, and of course, the devil is in the details.

Still, knowing what we know now, what do you think Israel should do?

What should we think about the sort of deal that seems to be evolving with Hamas to get the hostages home? – Well, I really don’t know nothing.

I mean, even the things I know, I don’t fully know how to make sense of.

I feel like Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement that we’re within touching distance of absolute victory, that feels insane to me.

That feels unintelligible.

It seems like once you’ve destroyed two-thirds of all the apartments in Gaza, what exactly is an absolute victory?

I guess what he means is we’re within touching distance of capturing and killing Sinwar, maybe, which seems completely implausible to me.

It doesn’t line up with what the people from the army are saying about how this will take months or maybe years and how those people have stopped talking about things like total victory over Hamas.

But if there is such a choice that the prime minister knows about between this deal and ending Hamas’s hold on Gaza forever, then I could see why one might consider not taking this deal.

And I just don’t know that.

I just don’t know anything.

So then what I’m left with is just like my gut, which it sounds heroic to say, I have this intuition, I have this feeling, but in fact, it’s completely worthless.

However, my gut says very strongly, of course, take the deal because you have these people, maybe as many as 80 of them are still alive.

And who knows what happens?

Even if you do capture Sinwar and kill him, who knows what five months from now or five years from now are going to look like.

And these people are very concrete.

Their lives are very much in our hands.

So everything that I feel is that Netanyahu, what Netanyahu said is wrong, and that of course you go for the deal, and that Blinken is right, that what Hamas proposes does seem close enough so that you could see it turning into a deal.

So that’s where I end up.

But I also know that everything that I think is ignorant and worthless. – Well, I think we need to think about what this, about how we’re framing it, because partly what’s happening is there’s a whole big secret negotiation going on, and anything that’s coming out is carefully released.

It’s released by different parts of the elements of all of the different parties involved.

For example, Hamas apparently did not actually send this out into the world.

It was obtained by Reuters, most likely via Hezbollah, which is also a party to this, and also tells us something about how complex and regional this whole story is with so many different actors involved.

But I just want to focus, first of all, as a caveat, I would say, this language of total victory is so much posturing.

There are some clear things other than reaching Sinwar in his fancy underground cave and killing him that are more sort of knowable, which is the extent to which Israel at the moment has control of the northern Gaza Strip, the extent to which IDF forces have killed Nuchpa forces who are still active in various parts of the Strip.

So there is some knowable military goals, but I agree that the language, that bombastic language of total victory is worrying because who’s to say what that is when this is a very slippery idea.

But having said that, I think we can’t know what is really happening.

It’s important to just examine the equation that we’re being presented with, which is that we need to choose between military victory and rescuing hostages.

And some of the figures in the cabinet, including Netanyahu, are trying to say those are not in opposition to each other.

Hamas only understands force and this can only be achieved by pushing forward with the military.

Those go in parallel, they don’t go against each other.

Again, we don’t know, but it’s always worth sort of asking, how are we framing this?

What I also wanna look at is back to this regional thing and where this places Hamas in the world, on the world stage.

I think that until recently, Hamas was considered something that’s happening in Gaza, that’s growing in the West Bank, that has a presence, can trigger wars.

But I think Hamas is very smartly positioning itself as a major leader in the Arab world because it is going for the most core aspirations of Palestinians and many of their deepest fears.

So prisoners, however many, if we’re talking about a thousand or 2000 prisoners, particularly these, what they would consider sort of high value one people with what we call blood on their hands and what they would call successful Hamas attackers, any release of those prisoners is going to put them in a very heroic and historic place, as happened with the Shalit deal.

Also, just today or just over the last couple of days, actually they included in one of their demands was a reversion to the status quo on the Temple Mount, which after a certain point, Israel narrowed its permissions for people to go on the Temple Mount.

Anything about Al-Aqsa, anything that seems to suggest that Hamas is doing more to protect Al-Aqsa is something that will go down in history as a major worldwide, as a great achievement.

And I just, that’s just, I think that is part of when people say Hamas has won already, I’ve heard people say they won on October 7th.

I think that’s part of that package of their victory. – And do you think that Israelis ought to be taking all of that stuff into account when we decide whether or not to do this deal? – Unfortunately, yes.

I don’t think Israel can afford to ignore it.

We may make a decision that that is still worth it.

And that is the other thing when we talk about Israeli victory, ’cause I mentioned the Nuqba forces and the ability to attack and did we kill Sinwar?

But I think it was very moving to me and correct when there was a panel last night of people who had been in, women who had been in as hostages and were released.

And they said that we need to redefine the idea of victory as being in this conflict, as being the release of hostages and the notion that Israel remains committed and mutually responsible for its citizens.

And that this would be the most, the sharpest victory.

I think that is the best argument for prioritizing the Israeli hostages over whatever various military victories because that is also victory.

I think we also need to look though at the local politics of what’s happening here.

And Netanyahu is coming out with these very strong statements, and he is playing to his base and to his coalition even more.

And the notion that this conflict, that this painful thing is being influenced by his political, his short-term political needs is something that is just horrifying.

And we know that we’re gonna talk about Ben-Gvir and he has said he will walk.

I don’t know where he’s gonna walk to.

Although Yair Lapid has said he will come in and keep the government afloat if that’s needed.

So just to add that this is also very much a local politics story where Netanyahu is trying to hold on to his power and is speaking in the way he speaks publicly in order to ensure that Ben-Gvir and company won’t walk out of the coalition.

And that’s very worrying that we need to think that Netanyahu is being driven by his own concerns about his political survival. – It’ll make you crazy when you think about that at the same time you think about these hostages in Gaza.

That thing will make you crazy.

And it’s almost undoubtedly true.

I have been very reticent to doubt Prime Minister Netanyahu’s genuine commitment to drawing us to the best possible resolution of this conflict.

I think that that really is his prime motivation, but the politics is so clearly part of this now and particularly this proposal by Hamas and it’s really, really just makes you crazy.

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