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Biden Details a 3-Phase Hostage Deal Aimed at Winding Down the Israel-Hamas War
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By Associated Press
Published 3 weeks ago on
May 31, 2024

President Biden outlines a three-phase deal proposed by Israel to Hamas, aiming to end the ongoing Mideast war and secure the release of remaining hostages in Gaza. (AP/Evan Vucci)

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday detailed a three-phase deal proposed by Israel to Hamas militants that he says would lead to the release of the remaining hostages in Gaza and could end the grinding, nearly 8-month-old Mideast war.

Biden added that Hamas is “no longer capable” of carrying out another large-scale attack on Israel as he urged Israelis and Hamas to come to a deal to release the remaining hostages for an extended cease-fire.

The Proposed Road Map to Peace

The Democratic president in remarks from the White House called the proposal “a road map to an enduring cease-fire and the release of all hostages.”

Biden said the first phase of the proposed deal would would last for six weeks and would include a “full and complete cease-fire,” a withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza and the release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly and the wounded, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

American hostages would be released at this stage, and remains of hostages who have been killed would be returned to their families. Humanitarian assistance would surge during the first phase, with 600 trucks being allowed into Gaza each day.

Challenges in Implementing the Deal

But Biden acknowledged that keeping the deal on track would be difficult, saying there are a number of “details to negotiate” to move from the first phase to the second.

One roadblock to overcome during the first phase would involve the two sides agreeing on the ratio of hostages to prisoners to be released during the next phase, according to a senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.

Biden’s remarks came as the Israeli military confirmed that its forces are now operating in central parts of Rafah in its expanding offensive in the southern Gaza city. Biden called it “a truly a decisive moment.” He added that Hamas said it wants a cease-fire and that an Israeli-phased deal is an opportunity to prove “whether they really mean it.”

Israel’s Stance on the Proposed Deal

But even as Biden pressed for the “war to end and for the day after to begin,” Israeli officials have made clear they remain committed to a military defeat of Hamas. The Democrat is in the midst of a tough reelection battle and has faced backlash from some on the political left who want to see him put greater pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to end the war.

Netanyahu’s office in a statement said that he authorized the Israel’s hostage negotiating team to find a way to release the remaining hostages. But the Israelis maintain “the war will not end until all of its goals are achieved, including the return of all our abductees and the elimination of Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities.”

Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, said earlier this week he was “expecting another seven months of fighting” to destroy the military and governing capabilities of Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group.

Hamas political bureau member Bassim Naim described the proposal outlined by Biden as “positive progress,” but did not elaborate.

Israel has faced growing international criticism for its strategy of systematic destruction in Gaza, at a huge cost in civilian lives. Israeli bombardments and ground offensives in the besieged territory have killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Biden also addressed some in Israel who resist ending the war. Some members of Netanyahu’s far-right coalition have opposed any deal that falls short of eradicating Hamas and they have called for an enduring occupation of Gaza.

“I ask you to take a step back and think about what will happen if this moment is lost,” Biden said. “You can’t lose this moment. Indefinite war in pursuit of an unidentified notion of total victory will only bog down Israel in Gaza, draining the economic, military and human resources, and furthering Israel’s isolation in the world.”

Biden in his remarks made no mention of establishing Palestinian statehood, something that he has repeatedly said is key to achieving long-term peace in the region. The U.S. administration has also been working to forge normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the region’s two biggest powers. But the Saudis are opposed to any agreement that does not include concrete steps toward creation of a Palestinian state.

Israel launched its war in Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250. Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.

The Sticking Point in Ceasefire Talks

Ceasefire talks ground to a halt at the beginning of the month after a major push by the U.S. and other mediators to secure a deal, in hopes of averting a planned Israeli invasion of the southern city of Rafah.

The talks were stymied by a central sticking point: Hamas demands guarantees that the war will end and Israeli troops will withdraw from Gaza completely in return for a release of all the hostages, a demand Israel rejects.

The outline of the new Israeli proposal is “nearly identical to Hamas’s own proposals of only a few weeks ago,” according to the Biden administration official.

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