On Tuesday, December 19, Israeli President Isaac Herzog expressed readiness for another humanitarian pause and hostage exchange deal with Hamas. Days prior, Qatar confirmed ongoing “diplomatic efforts to renew the humanitarian pause in Gaza," and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the resurgence of hostage negotiations.
Key mediators Egypt and Qatar insisted on the need to open the Kerem Shalom crossing before new negotiations ensued, a commitment made by the Israeli government during November’s hostage and prisoner exchanges. In response to this pressure, aid began to cross through the Israeli Karm Abu Salem border crossing on Sunday.
Regional sources report on the developments:
Arab News explained the domestic pressure on Netanyahu, writing that “Israeli protesters are urging their government to renew negotiations with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, whom Israel has vowed to destroy… Netanyahu vows to bring back the estimated 129 hostages still in captivity.” With the news that Israel accidentally killed three Israeli hostages, “anger over the mistaken killing of hostages is likely to increase pressure on him to renew Qatar-mediated negotiations with Hamas over swapping more of the remaining captives for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.”
As negotiations develop, Al-Arabiya reported: “The head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency met Qatar’s prime minister in Europe late on Friday, according to a source with knowledge of the matter, as attention turned to a possible new Gaza truce and a prisoner and hostage deal.” The paper elaborated that “Israel bombarded targets across Gaza on Saturday, but two Egyptian security sources said Israeli officials now appeared more willing to work towards a ceasefire and an exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages held by Hamas.”
On the talks between Mossad and the Qatari PM, Al-Jazeera reports that “Netanyahu sidestepped a question about the meeting reportedly held in Europe, but confirmed he had given instructions to the negotiating team.” While it appears negotiations may be going forward, “a Hamas statement later said the group ‘affirms its position not to open any negotiations to exchange prisoners unless the aggression against our people stops once and for all.”
The Hamas position has reportedly created an obstacle in the negotiations, with Haaretz citing an Egyptian source who “said that the officials in Cairo and Doha handling negotiations for the hostage deal informed U.S. senior officials that they are experiencing difficulties in bringing about a breakthrough in a deal, due to the condition that Hamas has placed for an immediate cease-fire.” The source, however, clarified that the U.S. administration remains hopeful for a new agreement similar to the last, “if Egypt and Qatar exert increased pressure on Hamas in this matter.”
With Egyptian and Qatari mediators pressing for the opening of the Karm Abu Salem border crossing, “Israel approved Friday the ‘temporary’ delivery of much-needed aid to Gaza via its Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing,” per Al-Ahram. They reported that “the office of the Israeli Prime Minister stated earlier that the opening of the crossing would enable Israel to honor its commitment, per the hostage deal brokered in November, to allowing 200 aid trucks to enter Gaza per day.”
(Image: Emad El Byed)