American-led negotiators are on the brink of reaching an agreement where Israel would temporarily halt its military operations in Gaza for approximately two months in exchange for the release of over 100 hostages still held by Hamas. The deal is expected to be finalized within the next two weeks and will be the topic of discussion in Paris on Sunday.
The negotiators have crafted a preliminary written agreement consolidating proposals put forth by Israel and Hamas over the past 10 days into a basic framework that, if accepted, could potentially transform the ongoing conflict in the region. While there are still significant disagreements to be resolved, the negotiators are cautiously optimistic that a final agreement is within reach, as per U.S. officials who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the discussions.
President Biden held separate phone calls on Friday with the leaders of Egypt and Qatar, who have been acting as intermediaries with Hamas, to narrow the remaining differences. He is also dispatching his C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, to Paris for the Sunday talks with Israeli, Egyptian, and Qatari officials. If Mr. Burns makes sufficient progress, Mr. Biden may then send his Middle East coordinator, Brett McGurk, who recently returned to Washington, back to the region to assist in finalizing the agreement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment to securing the release of the hostages who were not freed as part of a previous limited agreement in November. “As of today, we have returned 110 of our hostages and we are committed to bringing all of them home,” he stated in Israel on Saturday. “We are addressing this issue and doing so around the clock, including at this very moment.”
The hostages have been in captivity since October 7, when Hamas militants infiltrated Israel, resulting in an estimated 1,200 fatalities and the abduction of approximately 240 individuals in the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history. Since then, Israel’s military response has resulted in the deaths of over 25,000 people, the majority of whom are women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. It remains unclear how many of those killed in Gaza were Hamas fighters.
An impending agreement could potentially de-escalate the volatile situation in the broader Middle East. During the seven-day ceasefire in November, other Iranian-backed groups such as the Houthis and Hezbollah also refrained from the low-level attacks they had been carrying out against American, Israeli, and other targets.