Israel war: As Hamas considers cease-fire, question hangs: Will Israel end war without the group’s destruction?

Israel war: As Hamas considers cease-fire, question hangs: Will Israel end war without the group’s destruction?
Israel war: As Hamas considers cease-fire, question hangs: Will Israel end war without the group’s destruction?

Hamas on Thursday was considering the latest proposal for a cease-fire with Israel that the United States and other mediators hope will avert an Israeli attack on the Gaza town of Rafah. But chances for the deal are entangled with the question of whether Israel can accept an end to the war without reaching its stated goal of destroying Hamas.

The stakes in the cease-fire negotiations were made clear in a new U.N. report that said if the war in Gaza stops today, it will still take until 2040 to rebuild all the homes that have been destroyed by nearly seven months of Israeli bombardment and ground offensives in the territory. It warned that the impact of the damage to the economy will set back development for generations and will only get worse with every month fighting continues.

Hamas has insisted it won’t sign onto the deal without assurances that, if it eventually releases all its hostages, Israel will end its onslaught in Gaza and pull its troops out of the territory.

The proposal that U.S. and Egyptian mediators have put to Hamas — apparently with Israel’s acceptance – sets out a three-stage process that will bring an immediate six-week cease-fire and partial hostage release but also negotiations over a “permanent calm” that includes some sort of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, according to an Egyptian official.

If Israel does agree to end the war in return for a full hostage release, it would be a major turnaround. Since Hamas’ bloody Oct. 7 attack stunned Israel, its leaders have vowed not to stop their bombardment and ground offensives until the militant group is destroyed. They also say Israel must keep a military presence in Gaza and security control after the war to ensure Hamas doesn’t rebuild.

Publicly at least, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to insist that is the only acceptable endgame. He has vowed that even if a cease-fire is reached, Israel will eventually attack Rafah, which he says is Hamas’ last stronghold in Gaza. He repeated his determination to do so in talks Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in Israel on a regional tour to push the deal through. The deal’s immediate fate hinges on whether Hamas will accept uncertainty over the final phases to bring the initial six-week pause in fighting – and at least postpone what it is feared would be a devastating assault on Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town where some 1.4 million Palestinians have taken refuge.

Egypt has been privately assuring Hamas that the deal will mean a total end to the war. But the Egyptian official said Hamas says the text’s language is too vague and wants it to specify a complete Israeli pullout from all of Gaza. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about the internal deliberations.

The group is still studying the offer, senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said in a message Thursday to The Associated Press. He did not confirm whether it would formally give an answer later in the day.

On Wednesday evening, Hamdan expressed skepticism, saying the group’s initial position was “negative.” Speaking to Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV, he said talks were still ongoing but would stop if Israel invades Rafah.

Blinken hiked up pressure on Hamas to accept, saying Israel had made “very important” compromises.

“There’s no time for further haggling. The deal is there,” Blinken said Wednesday before leaving for the U.S.

Hanging over the negotiations is the threat of an Israeli attack on Rafah, which the U.S. and U.N. have warned could be catastrophic for Palestinian civilians. After fleeing Israel’s assault elsewhere in Gaza, more than half the territory’s population has crowded into tent camps and other shelters in and around Rafah.

The United States, which has staunchly supported Israel throughout the war, has said it should not move on Rafah and has grown increasingly critical of the staggering toll borne by Palestinian civilians. American officials say they oppose a major offensive in Rafah but that if Israel conducts one, it must first evacuate civilians. Israel has said it is developing plans for a mass evacuation of civilians.

The Israel-Hamas war was sparked by the Oct. 7 raid into southern Israel in which militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250 hostages. Hamas is believed to still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

Since then, Israel’s campaign in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials. It has wreaked vast destruction and brought a humanitarian disaster, with several hundred thousand Palestinians in northern Gaza facing imminent famine, according to the U.N. More than 80% of the population has been driven from their homes.

The “productive basis of the economy has been destroyed” and poverty is rising sharply among Palestinians, according to the report released Thursday by the United Nations Development Program and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

It said that in 2024, the entire Palestinian economy — including both Gaza and the West Bank — has so far contracted 25.8%. If the war continues, the loss will reach a “staggering” 29% by July, it said. The West Bank economy has been hit by Israel’s decision to cancel the work permits for tens of thousands of laborers who depended on jobs inside Israel.

“Every additional day that this war continues is exacting huge and compounding costs to Gazans and all Palestinians. … These new figures warn that the suffering in Gaza will not end when the war does,” said UNDP administrator Achim Steiner. He warned of a “serious development crisis that jeopardizes the future of generations to come.”

The report said at least 370,000 housing units in Gaza have been damaged, including 79,000 destroyed completely. After previous Israel-Hamas conflicts, housing was rebuilt at a rate of 992 units year. Even if Israel allows a five-fold increase of construction material to enter Gaza, it would take until 2040 to rebuild the destroyed houses without repairing the damaged ones, it said.

During his visit, Blinken said new steps by Israel, including the opening of another border crossing and an offshore pier set to open in the coming week, are helping to increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Israel. But he said such efforts must be sustained.

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