Gaza Cease-Fire Talks Revive After Weeks of Deadlock

Israeli negotiators traveled to the Gulf nation of Qatar on Friday for the first time in weeks to restart contacts over a cease-fire deal that would end the war in Gaza, following weeks of deadlock in the negotiations.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the meeting as a preliminary discussion with more substantive talks to follow.

David Barnea, the head of Israel’s Mossad foreign intelligence service, led the Israeli delegation to Doha, the Qatari capital, where he was set to meet with Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister.

Cease-fire negotiations had been stalled for weeks until Wednesday, when Hamas announced that it had exchanged some ideas with mediators on a new way forward. Both U.S. and Israeli officials said the revised Hamas position could allow for an agreement, but cautioned that a protracted and difficult series of deliberations lay ahead nonetheless.

Both sides would have to sort out the identity, number and conditions for the release of Palestinian prisoners who would be freed in exchange for the 120 living and dead hostages held by Hamas and its allies. They also would have to determine an appropriate sequence of Israeli withdrawal of forces and how much control Israeli forces would have at different phases in the agreement.

Most critically, Israel and Hamas would have to agree on a formula to resolve the major sticking point that has thwarted talks for months: Hamas wants nothing less a complete cease-fire and a full withdrawal of Israeli forces, while Israel has vowed to topple Hamas’s rule in Gaza and maintain postwar security control of the territory.

Israel and Hamas have been negotiating on the basis of a three-stage cease-fire framework publicized by President Biden in late May. The two sides refuse to talk directly, requiring Qatari and Egyptian mediators to conduct shuttle diplomacy between them.

Under the terms of the proposed deal, they would first observe a six-week truce during which hostages would be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. During those six weeks, officials would negotiate an end to the war and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

But Israel’s government is deeply divided on the proposed deal, which some argue would effectively leave Hamas in power in Gaza. Although the top Israeli leadership has given a green light to the proposal, two senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition have vowed to oppose it, potentially forcing him to choose between a cease-fire or his political survival.

Mr. Netanyahu did not unequivocally endorse the proposal for weeks. In a television interview last month, he appeared to walk back his support for it, saying he would not countenance an end to the war against Hamas. After an outcry from the families of hostages, Mr. Netanyahu zigzagged and publicly backed the proposal in late June.

Hamas faces a similarly complex calculus.

Some Gazans increasingly criticize the armed group for launching the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which triggered the war, without doing enough to protect Gazan civilians. Others say Hamas is dragging its feet on ending the war, fearing for its own political survival when the fighting ends.

And any agreement would need the blessing of the Hamas leader inside Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, whom Israel has vowed to kill for his role in the surprise assault.

While leaders on both sides weigh the path forward, Israel’s war in Gaza neared the end of its ninth month. The vast majority of the population is displaced, with many living in tents, and finding enough food and water to survive has become a daily struggle.

On Friday, Israeli forces continued to fight in Shajaiye, a neighborhood near Gaza City in the north of the territory in an attempt to crack down on Palestinian militants there. The Israeli military has increasingly doubled back to areas of Gaza that its forces first swept through months ago as it battles renewed insurgencies by Hamas and other armed groups.

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