The Art of the Bad Deal: Blinken’s Israeli Pressure Campaign Makes Hamas Less Likely To Accept ‘Generous’ Hostage Offer 

As the terrorist group’s Gaza boss watches worldwide support for his cause grow, including on American campuses and streets, he might conclude that the war he launched on October 7 is increasingly winnable.

Evelyn Hockstein/pool via AP
Secretary Blinken speaks to the press at the port of Ashdod, Israel, May 1, 2024. Evelyn Hockstein/pool via AP

While in the Mideast, Secretary Blinken is perfecting his signature art of the bad deal. His endless campaign to ease Israeli pressure on Hamas seems likely to end in a failure to release hostages and at least a partial rejection of a “generous offer.” 

This generosity toward Israel’s mortal enemy followed American pressure to make one concession after another to the terrorist organization. Hamas’s Gaza boss, Yehyeh Sinwar, is watching as the Israel Defense Force all but halts the war and facilitates ample humanitarian aid, and as Israeli society tears itself to pieces.

As Sinwar watches worldwide support for his cause grow, including on American campuses and streets, he might conclude that the war he launched on October 7 is increasingly winnable. Entrenched inside a well-protected maze of tunnels under Rafah, where he is protected by surrounding himself with Israeli hostages below and Gazan civilians above, his incentive to make a deal is diminished. 

Outside of Gaza, Hamas officials are issuing conflicting statements about a deal to free hostages in return for a partial cease-fire. Israelis say that while time is running out for the hostages, Hamas is playing for time. “We are in an endless loop,” a Kan News Arab affairs analyst, Roi Kais, said Thursday. 

During his seventh Israeli trip since October 7, Mr. Blinken on Wednesday visited Tel Aviv’s “hostage square,” where he met family members and vowed to keep working for the release of their loved ones. “There is a very strong proposal on the table right now,” he told them. “Hamas needs to say yes and needs to get this done.”

Yet, Hamas seems unmoved by such admonitions. A Lebanon-based official of the terror group, Osama Hamdan, told the Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar TV Thursday that its “position on the current negotiating paper is negative.” 

Hamas’s political chief, Ismail Haniyeh, who recently moved his base to Turkey from Qatar, is negotiating with the Egyptian intelligence director, Abbas Kamel, who is serving as negotiation mediator. Hamas affirms its “positive spirit in studying the ceasefire proposal,” he said in a statement Thursday, promising to travel to Egypt in coming days for further negotiations. 

Unless Hamas acts on the proposed deal soon, Israel plans to launch its attack on Rafah, Jerusalem officials say. “We will do what we must in order to win and to triumph over our enemies,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said Thursday, adding, “including in Rafah.” There are “disagreements among us,” he added, referring to his long Wednesday meeting with Mr. Blinken. 

Washington’s position “hasn’t changed, it won’t change,” Mr. Blinken told NBC Thursday. “We cannot and will not support a major military operation in Rafah absent a clear, credible plan to protect civilians.” Dismissing Israel’s repeated threat to operate at Rafah anyway, he added, “People say things. Let’s focus on what they’re doing, what we’re doing.”

Mr. Netanyahu has talked about attacking Rafah for weeks now. Yet, the operation keeps being delayed under heavy American pressure. Meanwhile, the IDF is barely operating anywhere in Gaza. All but one battalion left the Strip three months ago. At the same time, humanitarian aid is pouring in, and is often confiscated by Hamas and other armed elements. 

The latest proposed “generous” deal reportedly includes the release of between 20 and 33 of the 133 hostages in Hamas hands. In return, Israel would release hundreds of convicted prisoners, facilitate even more humanitarian aid, and halt all military activity for weeks as a first stage to a permanent cease-fire.

In another concession to Hamas, the deal reportedly includes unchecked movement of civilians inside the strip. The role of the remaining IDF in Gaza is to assure no Hamas operatives are part of that move. 

Mr. Netanyahu’s tough public statements aside, many Israelis feel that after six months of war, and despite remarkable IDF victories, its goals as defined by the government remain elusive. Hamas’s military capabilities and its ability to control Gaza are partially intact. Southern Israelis are yet to safely return home, and the fate of the hostages, dead and alive, is in Sinwar’s hands. 

Israelis blame Mr. Netanyahu for the slow path for victory. Fewer than 40 percent support his leadership, according to recent opinion polls. Yet, Washington’s pressure could also be blamed, as President Biden shifts to publicly focusing almost exclusively on Gaza’s welfare from full support of Israel. 

Mr. Netanyahu’s war cabinet, including his chief rival, Benny Gantz, claim that an IDF operation in Rafah is a must. Mr. Blinken, in contrast, is appealing to the terrorists’ better angels. “If Hamas actually purports to care about the Palestinian people and wants to see an immediate alleviation of their suffering, it will take the deal,” he told a reporter Wednesday.  

Hamas is yet to care for Gazans, and unless Sinwar fears for his life, his incentive to release even a small number of hostages, if any, is unclear.

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use