Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed Hamas’ proposals for a ceasefire and hostage deal in Gaza as “delusional,” in a setback to diplomatic efforts to pause the war.
Speaking to reporters, Netanyahu insisted that there was no alternative to “complete victory” over Hamas in Gaza.
Netanyahu’s hawkish response came hours after he met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and is a blow to the intensifying efforts aimed at securing a breakthrough in the conflict. But the Israeli leader notably did not suggest that Israel would abandon the ongoing discussions mediated by regional powers including Qatar and Egypt, and Blinken said later that there was still a path to a deal.
The Hamas proposal envisaged a three-stage process over four-and-a-half months, during which Israeli troops would gradually withdraw from the enclave, hostages would be released and Palestinian prisoners in Israel would be freed, according to a copy of the group’s counteroffer obtained by CNN.
But Netanyahu repudiated the proposal. “We haven’t committed to any of the delusional demands of Hamas,” he said. “There is not a commitment – there has to be a negotiation, it’s a process, and at the moment, from what I see from Hamas, it’s not happening.”
Israel’s aim was “complete victory” in Gaza, Netanyahu said. “The victory is achievable; it’s not a matter of years or decades, it’s a matter of months.”
In a late-night press conference in Tel Aviv, Blinken suggested negotiations could still move forward, saying he believed Netanyahu’s “delusional” remark referred to specific elements of the Hamas proposals that were unacceptable.
“Clearly, there are things that Hamas sent back that are absolute non-starters and I assume that’s what the prime minister was referring to, but I don’t want to speak for him,” Blinken said.
He added that there was “space to continue to pursue an agreement, and these things are always negotiations.”
“It’s not flipping a light switch. It’s not yes or no. There’s invariably back and forth,” Blinken said.
Hamas said it would send a delegation to the Egyptian capital, Cairo, to follow up on its proposals, according to the group’s spokesman Osama Hamdan.
A proposal in three phases
Hamas had proposed a three-phase deal, each lasting 45 days, that would also see the gradual release of hostages held in the enclave in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israel – including those serving life sentences – as well as the start of a massive humanitarian and rebuilding effort.
Contrary to earlier demands, Hamas did not call for an immediate end to the war. Negotiations for a permanent ceasefire would take place during the truce and the remaining hostages would only be released once a final deal to end the war was agreed, the document said.
The proposal was a response to a framework agreement presented by negotiators in Paris at the end of last month.
Hamas’ response had put the focus back on Israel, which is under intense pressure from its allies to scale down the war and ease the humanitarian suffering in Gaza. There have been indications that the United States views the Hamas offer positively, butNetanyahu has pledged not to stop the campaign until Israel destroys Hamas once and for all.
He reiterated that stance after his Wednesday address, telling Israeli media that Israel would be safe only after it “destroys” Hamas. “Not part of Hamas, not half of Hamas, the entire Hamas.”
The Israeli offensive, launched after the Hamas attack four months ago, has taken an immense humanitarian toll on the strip, with tens of thousands dead and the population of Gaza pushed to the brink of famine.
A weeklong truce in November saw the release of 105 hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners. Israel believes 132 hostages taken during the October 7 attacks remain in Gaza, 29 of whom are thought to have been killed.
‘There won’t be any hostages to release’
The Israeli former hostage Adina Moshe criticized Netanyahu, saying there “won’t be any hostages to release” if his government continued its plan to completely eliminate Hamas.
Moshe, 72, who was kidnapped by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Oz and held hostage in Gaza for seven weeks, spoke at a press conference for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, directing her comments specifically to Netanyahu.
“Mr. Netanyahu, I’m turning to you. It’s all in your hands. You are the one. You’re the one who can. And I’m really afraid that if you continue the way you do, the destruction of Hamas, there won’t be any hostages to release,” Moshe said.
The Hostages and Missing Families Forum Headquarters also delivered a message directly to Netanyahu and the Israeli War Cabinet in a press release on Wednesday. “If the hostages are not returned home: the citizens of Israel should know they live in a state that is not committed to their security, that the mutual responsibility in it has died,” the families forum said. “They who do not protect their citizens will find that their citizens lose faith in them and their leadership.”
“The price is unbearable, but the price of abandoning the hostages will be a historic stain for generations to come,” the forum added.
Hamas’ counterproposal had earlier been met with optimism by those involved in the negotiations, though President Joe Biden had described it as “a little over the top” in remarks to the press on Tuesday.
Before Netanyahu’s remarks on Wednesday, several Israel-based civil society groups and human rights organizations had called for an immediate ceasefire, and demanded the release of hostages held in the enclave, saying a pause in fighting would assist access to vital aid to address the humanitarian catastrophe in the strip.
“In more than 120 days of war in Gaza, following Hamas’ egregious attack on October 7, which killed some 1,200 Israelis and internationals, we have witnessed Israeli bombardments and siege policy causing unfathomable death and destruction in the Gaza Strip,” said the statement, which was published jointly by 17 Israeli based groups including ‘B’Tselem’, ‘Combatants for Peace’ and ‘Breaking the Silence.’
This story has been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Richard Allen Greene in Jerusalem contributed reporting
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