Home News As Gaza talks falter, negotiators look for deal or scapegoat

As Gaza talks falter, negotiators look for deal or scapegoat


To understand what’s happening in the Middle East right now, it might be helpful to remember the dead cat.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III’s favorite metaphor was in 1991 as he crisscrossed the region trying to negotiate a complex agreement. For every player who disobeys, Mr. Baker threatens to “leave a dead cat on their doorstep” – in other words, ensuring that if the whole thing falls apart, they’re the ones to blame.

The question thirty years later is whether today’s participants were at that stage of the US-brokered ceasefire negotiations in Gaza. Much of what the world is seeing right now is, at least in part, an attempt to gain an advantage at the negotiating table, outwit other players, and deflect blame when consensus cannot be reached, allowing a brutal seven-month war to Continue to wreak havoc.

Hamas Release hostage videoPresumably they were meant to remind the world of the stakes in the negotiations and boost the mood of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is already facing intense public pressure to release them.Mr Netanyahu has launched airstrikes in recent days and Send tanks into Rafah The move showed he was serious about invading the southern Gaza city.President Biden freezes a batch of U.S. bombs to show he’s also Seriously curb Israel’s arms supplies If it does attack.

“Much of it was a show between Israel and Hamas, borrowing from Baker’s dead-cat diplomacy,” said Aaron David Miller, a member of Mr. Baker’s team at the time. “Part of the motivation is not to make a deal but to blame the other side if it fails. The only party that’s really anxious is Biden.”

“Of course, if Bibi makes a big splash in Rafah, he fears Palestinian deaths,” Mr. Miller added, using Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname. “But he also knows that any negotiations will then become ‘virtually impossible’.”

Prospects for reaching an agreement Thursday seems more and more distant Biden’s chief negotiator, CIA Director William J. Burns, left Cairo without a deal. Delegations from Israel and Hamas also left, but mid-level officials from the United States and its intermediaries, Egypt and Qatar, remained in Cairo to continue discussions in the hope of salvaging the process.

In theory, the main interlocutor is taking a break to see how Israel treats what it calls Rafa’s ‘limited’ action. But reports from Cairo suggest tempers are running high, with each side accusing the other of dishonesty, while the optimism evident among U.S. officials a week ago has faded.

This is a historic challenge for any negotiation in a region known for its opaque machinations, as Mr. Baker, Henry A. Kissinger and generations of other American dealmakers have painfully realized. Most of what happens during the day is about posture. A lot of really important stuff happens in the shadows within the shadows.

Even veterans of the area have trouble figuring out hidden motives and actual red lines. All players at the table need to keep domestic politics in mind. None of them fully trusts the others. A new counteroffer may be a genuine effort to break the deadlock, or it may be a clever way to put your opponent on the defensive.

The central question that each side is asking the other is, who really wants a deal and at what cost? Or is it all just to show off the public thoroughfare?

“Much of what we’re seeing is an attempt to gain an advantage in the negotiations, but overall the deal is becoming more distant than a deal,” said Michael Koplow, chief policy officer at the Israel Policy Forum.

One proposal on the table essentially calls for a temporary ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages. Israel will also release hundreds of Palestinians from its prisons, allow people to return to northern Gaza and facilitate an expansion of humanitarian aid.

The first stage of an agreement is the closest the parties come to reaching an agreement. In the first phase, Israel will suspend hostilities for 42 days and Hamas will hand over the 33 women, elderly men and sick and wounded hostages it took in the October 7 terrorist attack, although some of them are the remains of the deceased. The second phase would extend the ceasefire for a further 42 days and release more hostages and Palestinian prisoners.

The most thorny dispute centers on whether the deal will ultimately lead to a permanent end to the war, something Hamas insists on while Israel refuses to guarantee. U.S. negotiators called for a “sustainable calm” through negotiations once a ceasefire begins, but did not specify this.

However, Netanyahu’s actions in Rafah in recent days have further complicated the situation.He once said he would invade Rafah “With or without a deal” Unsurprisingly, Hamas viewed the pledge as a deal-killer. He also ordered limited strikes on Rafah in response to a Hamas rocket attack that killed four Israeli soldiers.

Biden has long opposed an attack on Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have taken refuge, because he believes any war plan would not result in massive civilian casualties. After months of warning Netanyahu against conducting Operation Rafah, Biden finally took action after U.S. officials discovered the Israeli move, which they viewed as a prelude to an invasion.go through Suspended shipment of 3,500 bombsBiden said he would not provide more offensive weapons to attack Rafa.

“Biden believes that blocking the Rafah operation will force Israel to engage in more concrete negotiations, while Netanyahu believes that new military operations will force Hamas to lower its demands,” Koplow said. “But Netanyahu believes that new military operations will force Hamas to lower its demands.” Yahu’s insistence that Operation Rafah will be implemented whatever temporary ceasefire Israel agrees to removes any incentive for Hamas to negotiate.”

Furthermore, he added, “Biden’s pressure to prevent any type of operations in Rafah also removes any incentive for Hamas” Yahya SinwarThe Hamas military leader, who is believed to be hiding in Gaza tunnels, “can reasonably assume that as long as he continues to hold out, he will soon be granted a de facto free ceasefire.”

Mr Koplow noted that Hamas had made demands that it could not expect Israel to agree to, such as insisting that Palestinian prisoners released in the first phase be released before all Israeli hostages were released and that Israel had no veto over who should be released. “So they are probably less likely than either party here to negotiate successfully,” he said.

But the dynamics have changed significantly in recent weeks. Biden initially said he opposed an attack on Rafah unless Israel showed him a plan that would minimize civilian casualties. After numerous consultations on Israeli war plans, Biden has effectively stated that such a plan is impossible and that he opposes any major action in Rafah.

“The flashing yellow light has turned into a strong red light,” said John Hannah, a senior fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security and former national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. “If that holds true, , that would be a huge change.”

Mr. Hanna said U.S. and Israeli interests, which were fairly aligned at the start of the war after the Hamas terror attacks, have now become deeply divided, changing negotiations.

While Mr. Netanyahu has said Israel’s mission is to destroy Hamas, the White House now believes that is an impossible goal and that Israel has done lasting damage to ensure that Hamas is no longer the constituency it once was. threaten. Furthermore, Mr Biden is eager to broker a broader deal that would transform the region by bringing the United States closer to Saudi Arabia, which would offer diplomatic recognition to Israel for the first time – something that would be impossible to imagine as long as the Gaza war continues .

“The president wants this war to end now — even if it comes at the expense of the temporary survival of a deeply corrupted Hamas and its leadership,” Mr. Hanna said. “He believes he has more important things to do in terms of re-election and the regional agenda. In this sense, Israel and the United States no longer see eye to eye on the ceasefire and hostage agreement, but rather contradict each other.”

Netanyahu said Thursday he was willing to continue the war even without Biden. “If we need to be independent, we will be independent,” he said. But he has said this before, even though he welcomes U.S. weapons. Does he mean now, or is it a public position he must take before negotiators return to the table? Is he really willing to alienate Israel’s closest and most important ally, or use Biden’s position to explain to the public why he’s conceding?

Of course, these aren’t the only problems. Is Biden, who insists his support for Israel is “ironclad,” really willing to cut off more offensive weapons at the expense of Republicans and some pro-Israel Democrats who accuse him of abandoning Israel?

As for Hamas, are its leaders willing to make concessions to avoid a devastating attack on Rafah? Or do they think such action might benefit the organization by further excluding Israel from the rest of the world?

At the rate things were going, it wouldn’t be long before someone found the cat on their front step. Many people may pay the price.

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