Israel is backing off from Qatari and Egyptian-mediated hostage talks with Hamas after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the Palestinian group’s latest proposal, The Times of Israel reported on Thursday.
An Israeli official told the Times that instead of offering a counter-proposal, Israel will try to get the US to apply pressure on Qatar, although Doha has insisted it’s only a mediator and cannot control Hamas.
“The main target now is to create pressure from the Americans and other countries on Qatar, and from there on Hamas, in addition to the military pressure, to bring them down from their delusional demands,” the Israeli official said.
Hamas’s proposal involved a 135-day ceasefire in three phases. Throughout the three phases, Hamas would release all remaining Israeli hostages in exchange for Israel freeing thousands of Palestinian prisoners. The goal would be to establish a permanent ceasefire by the end of the 135 days.
Netanyahu immediately rejected the proposal and said there was “no solution besides total victory.” He made the comments after meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in the region to work toward a hostage deal, but he left with nothing to show for his visit.
Now, Netanyahu is threatening that Israeli troops will attack the southern Gaza city of Rafah next, where more than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering. Israeli forces bombed areas of Rafah on Thursday as US officials cautioned against an assault on the city.
The State Department said for Israel to conduct an operation in Rafah without a plan to protect civilians would be a “disaster.” But there’s no sign the Biden administration is really pressuring Israel to change its plans since the US continues to provide unconditional military and political support.
The Israeli slaughter has killed nearly 28,000 Palestinians, including over 11,500 children. As the Israeli military operations drag on, many more could die of starvation and disease caused by the siege.