Netanyahu rejects Hamas’ proposed cease-fire terms in blow to Washington’s diplomacy in Middle East, highlighting US-Israel divisions
Published: Feb 08, 2024 09:16 PM
People gather around a destroyed house after an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, on Feb. 5, 2024. The death toll of Palestinians killed from Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip has risen to 27,478, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said on Monday(Photo: Xinhua)

People gather around a destroyed house after an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, on Feb. 5, 2024. The death toll of Palestinians killed from Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip has risen to 27,478, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said on Monday(Photo: Xinhua)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed Hamas' proposals for a cease-fire and hostage deal in Gaza, calling them "delusional," in what is widely regarded as a blow for the diplomacy of the Biden administration in the Middle East as Secretary of State Antony Blinken makes his fifth visit from February 2 to Thursday to the region. 

This again highlighted the deep divergence between Washington and the Netanyahu administration, and also exposes the further weakening of American influence over Israel and the failure of the US' Middle East policy, observers said.

Netanyahu said during a Wednesday briefing: "We haven't committed to any of the delusional demands of Hamas…. We are on the way to complete victory. The victory is achievable; it's not a matter of years or decades, it's a matter of months," he told the news conference. 

"If Hamas will survive in Gaza, it's only a question of time until the next massacre," Netanyahu said.

Hamas had presented its response to a proposal for a deal by calling for a phased Israeli withdrawal from the enclave during a four-and-a-half-month truce and a plan to permanently end the war, according to a CNN news report on Wednesday.

BBC said in its news report on Thursday that Israel was expected to take issue with Hamas's counter-offer, but this response is a categorical rebuke, and Israeli officials clearly see an effort by Hamas to end the war on its terms as utterly unacceptable.

The BBC news report quoted an Egyptian official source as saying that a new round of negotiations, mediated by Egypt and Qatar, is still expected to go ahead on Thursday in Cairo.

It has been exactly four months since the conflict started on October 7 last year. Now, a cease-fire is becoming inevitable for all parties involved in this conflict, Chinese observers said. 

"Israel is finding it increasingly difficult to sustain the ongoing conflict due to mounting internal and external pressures. However, for Netanyahu, he needs to wait for a deal that he can accept or one that both sides can accept. As for Hamas, they cannot afford to continue fighting as they are relatively weak in terms of power. Nevertheless, in the current external conditions that are relatively favorable to Hamas, they also want to leverage this opportunity to put forward some conditions," said Li Weijian, a research fellow with the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

Although the demands from Hamas are challenging, both sides have been aware of the difficulties from the beginning. The fact that they continue to negotiate despite knowing the challenges indicates that there is still a possibility for some compromise, Li Weijian told the Global Times on Thursday.

The expert believes Netanyahu's tough talk on Wednesday was more like "political bargaining." 

While Netanyahu's statements are resolute, vowing to completely destroy Hamas, it is possible that his tough talk is also a tactic for bargaining with the US to secure political maneuvering space for himself, Li Weijian said. 

This is because Netanyahu faces domestic opposition in his handling of the conflict and the US is also dissatisfied with him. Therefore, part of the reason for his tough rhetoric is driven by personal political considerations, such as hoping for some assurance from Washington, he explained.

Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Thursday that in this conflict, Israel has not achieved its stated goals, as Hamas still remains resilient. But the current situation is such that the mainstream, including Arab countries, the US, Hamas, and even some within Israel, are calling for and coordinating efforts to alleviate the existing situation.

According to latest media reports, around 1,300 people were killed during the Hamas attacks on southern Israel on 7 October last year. More than 27,700 Palestinians have been killed and at least 65,000 injured by the war launched by Israel in response, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Despite different voices within Israel, Netanyahu still holds significant influence in his country, Li Haidong said, which means Netanyahu's tough stance could complicate the conflict situation, he warned. 

Will the future conflict move towards de-escalation or continue to escalate? Based on Netanyahu's statements, it seems that Israeli hardliners still hope for the conflict to continue, which could lead to more uncertain consequences, Li Haidong predicted.

What's for sure is that the divergence between the US and Israel is more pronounced, Chinese observers said.

Currently, it appears that the goals pursued by the Israeli hardliners are inconsistent with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations and even the US' definition of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, Li Haidong pointed out.

From the perspective of the US, their focus is on the overall security order in the Middle East region and the macro strategic layout on a global scale. On the other hand, when it comes to Israel, the hardliners in the country approach the solution from a perspective of the "survival or extinction" of the Hamas regime, the expert stated.

The immediate priority for Washington in the region is how to better coordinate with Arab countries to deal with the crisis caused by the attack on American troops in Jordan, as well as the attacks by Houthi militants on US and other Western commercial ships in the Red Sea region, observers believe.

 "This requires cooperation from Israel. However, it seems that the hardliners in Israel are not buying into the US agenda, which makes it challenging for the US to gather enough support from Arab powers in response to the US' so-called 'opponents or enemies'," Li Haidong explained.

Netanyahu's rejection of the cease-fire deal signified another setback for US-led diplomatic efforts, highlighting a fundamental mismatch between the US and Israel's plans for Gaza's future, Li Weijian noted.

He also pointed out that this incident exposed the further weakening of American influence over Israel and once again exposes the failure of its Middle East policy.

The decline of US influence in the region can be attributed to two main reasons, according to the expert.

Firstly, the overall strength of the US has been decreasing, resulting in a decline in its influence not only in the Middle East but also worldwide. Secondly, the US is strategically unwilling to allocate more resources to the Middle East in the future. Previous administrations have already sought to reduce their presence in the Middle East, and now the Biden administration is faced with pressing domestic issues as well as global challenges such as the Ukraine crisis and great power competition.

Li Weijian predicted that as a result of this incident, there may be some changes in the relationship between the US and Israel in the future. Within the US, there are already discussions about the value of Israel and whether it is worth investing so many resources while the US compromises its own image.