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Developments in Gaza ceasefire talks raise hopes but challenges persist. Here’s what to know

Israeli and US officials showed optimism last week around a ceasefire-hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, as the Palestinian militant group expressed willingness to compromise on a key sticking point. But an agreement may still be elusive despite the new momentum.

A statement by the Israeli prime minister’s office on Sunday, however, cast doubt on whether the deal would progress, laying out several “principles” Israel is not prepared to abandon, including resumed fighting in Gaza “until all of objectives of the war have been achieved.”

Israel launched its war on Gaza nine months ago, in response to Hamas’ October 7 attack that killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 others hostage, according to Israeli authorities. The war has left swathes of the enclave unrecognizable, displaced almost the entire population and killed more than 38,000 people in Gaza, according to the health ministry there. Israel had said it wouldn’t end the war until all hostages are freed and Hamas is eliminated.

Some experts say Netanyahu’s statement on Sunday suggests the deal may face new hurdles.

“I don’t think that Hamas will give in to additional Israeli demands,” such as staying on the Philadelphi Corridor, Baskin said, referring to the 14-kilometer (about 8.7-mile) buffer zone on the Egypt-Gaza border. Hamas is also unlikely to agree to an Israeli demand of “a veto on the selection of Palestinian prisoners to be released.”

Here’s what we know about where the talks stand.

What is the deal that is on the table?

US President Joe Biden in May laid out a three-phase proposal that he said Israel had submitted, as he declared “it’s time for this war to end.”

The first phase of the potential agreement would last six weeks and include the “withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza” as well as the “release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, the wounded in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.” Phase 2 would allow for the “exchange for the release of all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers.” In Phase 3, the president said, a “major reconstruction plan for Gaza would commence and any final remains of hostages who’ve been killed will be returned to their families.”

What is Hamas’ position?

Hamas has long demanded that Israel agree to a permanent ceasefire before signing any deal, which Israel has so far refused.

This means, in the first phase, mediators would guarantee a temporary truce, the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza and the withdrawal of Israeli troops. Indirect talks would continue towards implementing the second phase of the agreement.

The demand for a prior commitment to a permanent ceasefire had been a key sticking point for Israel, as Netanyahu insisted his country would not end the war until Hamas is defeated – a goal critics deem too ambitious to achieve.

What is Netanyahu’s position?

Netanyahu on Thursday authorized his negotiators to enter into detailed talks in a bid to broker a deal, an Israeli official and a source familiar with the negotiations said, signaling progress after weeks of deadlock.

In a statement Sunday, however, Netanyahu’s office published a list of principles that it said will not be infringed upon by the plan agreed to by Israel and Biden. The prime minister’s “steadfast position” against calls to halt Israeli military action in the southern Gaza city of Rafah is what brought Hamas to the negotiating table, the statement said.

The principles include a resumption of the war until “all of objectives of the war have been achieved” and the prevention of “smuggling of weapons to Hamas from Egypt to the Gaza border.”

Israel began a ground operation in Rafah on May 7, crossing the Philadelphi Corridor and seizing the Palestinian side of the border with Egypt. Israel has long accused Hamas of using the Philadelphi corridor to smuggle weapons from Egypt.

Netanyahu also said there will be “no return of thousands of armed terrorists to the northern Gaza Strip,” the statement said.

What is the White House saying?

Asked if the administration believes that Netanyahu is playing politics and could try to sabotage the deal, the official said the deal is structured in a way that “fully protects Israel’s interests.”

The developments came after the US proposed new language to help bridge gaps in discussions for a deal, and as Biden scrambled for political survival after floundering in a presidential debate against his predecessor Donald Trump. Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict has been a key issue for voters.

Are the two sides closer to a deal?

Optimism that a deal may be reached has possibly been dampened by Netanyahu’s demands on Sunday.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid criticized the prime minister, calling his statement “provocative.”

“What is it good for? We are at a critical moment in the negotiations, the lives of the abductees depend on it,” Lapid wrote Sunday on X. “Why issue such provocative messages? How does it contribute to the process?”

Baskin, the former negotiator, said that added US pressure is unlikely to sway the Israeli prime minister, who is battling for political survival amid anti-government protests demanding his resignation. Netanyahu is also bound by the demands of right-wing ministers in his coalition who are opposed to any compromise with Hamas.

US pressure is “strongly diminished now” after Biden’s debate against Trump, Baskin said. Biden’s weak debate performance only led more Democrats to express doubts that he can beat his opponent in the upcoming election.

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