6-week cease-fire pitch going to Hamas
Qatar to present proposal for hostage-prisoner swap to pause war with Israel
By Edward Wong and Julian E. Barnes | The New York Times
WASHINGTON >> Representatives from four nations have agreed to have Qatar present an ascent framework to Hamas that proposes a six-week pause in the war in the Gaza Strip for Hamas to exchange some hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, officials say.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, meets with Qatar Prime Minister and Foreign Aff airs Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani at the State Department in Washington on Monday. MANUEL BALCE CENETA — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The talks are at an early stage, and many details would need to be worked out if Hamas agrees to start building on the framework, they said. Qatar is presenting the proposal to the political leaders of Hamas, who would convey it to the group’s military leaders, who would then send a response. That process could take days or even longer because the military leaders are in hiding in tunnels deep beneath Gaza.
In the proposed framework, Hamas would release elderly hostages, women and children, if any are still being held and are alive, over the pause period of six weeks, said the officials, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive diplomacy. That would be the first of three potential phases of swaps.
During a seven-day pause in November, many people in those categories were among more than 100 hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. But some remain in the hands of Hamas or other militant groups in Gaza.
Some Israeli officials say the number is 30 to 35, but that is an estimate, and the negotiators do not know the actual number. It is unclear if female soldiers would be included in hostages released in the tranche being discussed. That could be worked out in negotiations of details, if the talks reach that stage.
Hamas and other men from Gaza took about 240 people hostage in the terrorist attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7, which also resulted in about 1,200 deaths, Israeli officials said. The retaliatory Israeli military campaign, with robust weapons support from the United States, has killed about 25,000 people in Gaza, according to health ministry officials there.
Since the November swap, talks over a hostage release had stalled. Hamas has tried to steer any diplomacy toward discussion of a permanent cease-fire, but Israeli leaders have balked at that. A meeting in Paris was intended to get negotiations going again.
The terms of the broad framework were sketched out Sunday in Paris by representatives of the United States, Israel, Qatar and Egypt. CIA Director William J. Burns was there, as were the heads of Israel’s intelligence service, the Mossad, and internal security agency, Shin Bet.
One official said Burns was very helpful in getting the Israeli representatives to agree to some of the suggestions.
The Israeli officials were expected to speak to leaders in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv about the framework after returning there from Paris.
The prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani, flew from the meeting in Paris to Washington, where he met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday morning.
Blinken declined to give details of the framework at a news conference in the afternoon, saying that “the less said, the better.” But he said that the proposal now on the table is “a compelling one” and that “there is some real hope going forward.”
He added that the countries in the talks were in alignment on the initial framework to be presented to Hamas.
But, he said, “Hamas will have to make its own decisions.”
Sheikh Mohammed said at a public talk at the Atlantic Council after his meeting with Blinken that “we are in a much better place than where we were a few weeks ago.”
“Our main role as mediator is trying our best to get a negotiated solution where it can bring the hostages safely back to their homes, yet also stopping the bombing,” he added.
If the first proposed hostage-for-prisoners swap successfully takes place during a six-week pause in the war, then two other phases with similar terms could be enacted after details are worked out, said the officials briefed on the talks. Eventually, they said, Hamas might handover male soldiers and corpses of people who died in captivity.
Some officials from the countries involved in the talks said they hoped the phases would lead to a permanent cease-fire. This was the hope among Qatari officials during the November pause, but that fell apart at the end as fighting restarted, and negotiators were unable to extend it.
The New York Times reported Saturday that U.S. officials are trying to push forward on three major sets of negotiations to bring about a political resolution to the war. The first — and the one that U.S. officials consider most urgent — is on the hostages and a pause that might lead to a permanent cease-fire.
The second is on overhauling the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, the semi-autonomous body that administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. And the third is on trying to get Israel to commit to a concrete pathway to a Palestinian state in exchange for Saudi Arabia agreeing to formal diplomatic ties with Israel.
For months before the Oct. 7 attacks, the Biden administration had been talking to Saudi officials about offering them U.S. security guarantees if they agreed to normalize ties with Israel.