Blinken Criticizes Hamas’s Response to Ceasefire Proposal

By Yoni Weiss

Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, Pool)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that mediators would keep trying to close an elusive ceasefire deal for Gaza after Hamas proposed changes to a U.S.-backed plan, some of which he said were “workable” and some not.

The back-and-forth laid bare frustration over the difficulty of reaching an accord that could end eight months of war.

The ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas. Blinken did not spell out what changes Hamas sought, but he said the mediators — Qatar, Egypt, and the U.S. — will keep trying to “close this deal.” He put the onus on Hamas, accusing it of changing its demands.

“Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table. … Some of the changes are workable. Some are not,” Blinken told reporters in Qatar. “I believe that they [the differences] are bridgeable, but that doesn’t mean they will be bridged because ultimately Hamas has to decide.”

Hamas conveyed its official reply to the proposal to mediators on Tuesday. Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha told Lebanese news outlet ElNashra that the “amendments” requested by the group aim to guarantee a permanent ceasefire and complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

The proposal announced by President Joe Biden includes those provisions, but Hamas has expressed wariness about whether Israel will implement the terms. While the U.S. says Israel has accepted the proposal, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has given conflicting statements, saying Israel is still intent on its goal of destroying Hamas.

Blinken, on his eighth visit to the region since the start of the war, said the deal on the table was “virtually identical” to the one Hamas put forth on May 6. The U.N. Security Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the plan on Monday.

“At some point in a negotiation, and this has gone back and forth for a long time, you get to a point where if one side continues to change its demands, including making demands and insisting on changes for things that it already accepted, you have to question whether they’re proceeding in good faith or not,” he said.

Speaking alongside Blinken, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said there had been “counterproductive” actions by both sides.

The proposal’s three-phase plan would begin with a six-week ceasefire and the release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas, and Palestinian civilians would be allowed to return to their homes.

At the same time, negotiations would start over the second phase, which is to bring “a permanent end to hostilities” and “full withdrawal” of Israeli troops from Gaza in exchange for the release of all remaining hostages.

Phase three would see the launch of a reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of remains of deceased hostages.

A major hitch for both sides appears to be the negotiations for the second phase.

Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan said Israel will demand that Hamas be removed from power as part of any agreement on that phase.

“One of our conditions is not only the release of the hostages, it’s also the future of Gaza,” Erdan told the CNN on Monday. “We cannot agree to Hamas continuing to be the rulers of Gaza because then Gaza will continue to pose a threat to Israel.”

He also said Israel opposes a provision extending the initial ceasefire as long as talks are going on, saying it would allow Hamas to “continue with endless and meaningless negotiations.”

Hamas, in turn, appears to want stronger guarantees up front that the talks will lead to the permanent ceasefire and withdrawal.

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