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Despite setbacks, US sees Israel-Hamas cease-fire within reach


Palestinians celebrate in the streets following Hamas's announcement that it accepted a cease-fire proposal in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip on May 6, 2024. Despite the Hamas announcement, Israel said later it would move forward with its planned offensive on Rafah.
Palestinians celebrate in the streets following Hamas's announcement that it accepted a cease-fire proposal in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip on May 6, 2024. Despite the Hamas announcement, Israel said later it would move forward with its planned offensive on Rafah.

The U.S. expressed optimism that a cease-fire agreement in Gaza is within reach, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a version of the deal that Hamas said it has accepted.

"A close assessment of the two sides' positions suggests that they should be able to close the remaining gaps," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Tuesday. "We're going to do everything we can to support that process and achieve that outcome."

CIA Director William Burns is in Cairo, Kirby said, acting as an interlocutor for the United States in negotiations involving Israel, Hamas, Egypt and Qatar. The talks are aimed at achieving a temporary cease-fire accompanied by the release of some Israeli hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

But after glimmers of hope earlier this week, both sides appear to have hardened their positions.

On Tuesday Israel launched what it calls a "limited operation" on Rafah, the Palestinian enclave's southernmost city, after on Monday rejecting a proposed cease-fire deal that Hamas had agreed to. Israel said the plan did not meet its demands to eliminate Hamas' role from post-war Gaza.

In response, Hamas on Tuesday warned Israel there would be no cease-fire if military action continues in Rafah.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the operation will continue until they eliminate Hamas in Rafah and the entire Gaza Strip, or until the return of the first hostage.

The Israeli operation is intended to pressure Hamas, said Eitan Shamir, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Israel's Bar-Ilan University.

"Israel's war objective was to make sure that Hamas doesn't control anything any longer," Shamir told VOA. In that sense, he added, under the latest proposal that allows Hamas a role in Gaza's post-war reconstruction, Israel is going to "basically lose the war."

Despite slim prospects, US optimistic on Israel-Hamas cease-fire
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Fundamentally, the goals of the warring sides are incompatible, said former U.S. negotiator for the Middle East Aaron David Miller, who is now with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.

Yahya Sinwar, Hamas' leader in Gaza, wants to avoid assassination and ensure the group's post-conflict role in Gaza, while Netanyahu has no support within his coalition for stopping military operations without ending Hamas' sovereignty in Gaza and eliminating its threat to Israel, Miller told VOA.

In such a conflict where two combatants believe that the stakes are existential, the influence of external parties is limited, he said.

"You need a Mandela and de Klerk, and you don't have one," he added, referring to Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, leaders who worked together to end apartheid in South Africa.

Stakes high for Biden

The stakes are also high for President Joe Biden, whose electoral success in November is in part tied to reaching a cease-fire and appeasing progressive Democrats, Muslim and Arab Americans who are angry over his support for Israel.

In an impassioned speech Tuesday marking the Days of Remembrance to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust and other victims of Nazi persecution, Biden denounced a "ferocious surge" of antisemitism in America and the atrocities committed by Hamas.

"My commitment to the safety of the Jewish people, the security of Israel, and its right to exist as an independent Jewish state is ironclad. Even when we disagree," he said.

The speech was a departure from recent remarks in which Biden paired vows of support for Israel with warnings to Netanyahu to wage war in line with humanitarian law.

His support faces a key test Wednesday, the deadline for a report mandated by National Security Memorandum 20, which the president issued in February.

The memo requires the U.S. departments of State and Defense to assess Israeli assurances that it is using American weapons in line with laws on war. His administration will use the report as a basis for further action that could include limitations on arms transfers.

Israel launched its war in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks that killed 1,200 people in Israel and took more than 200 people hostage. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, Israel's military campaign has killed close to 35,000 people including combatants.

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