No Gaza ceasefire until Israel war aims achieved, Netanyahu says

A group of Palestinians surrounded by destroyed buildings
[Reuters]

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted there will be no permanent ceasefire in Gaza until Hamas’s military and governing capabilities are destroyed and all hostages are released.

His statement comes after US President Joe Biden announced Israel had proposed a three-stage plan to Hamas aimed at reaching a permanent ceasefire.

A senior Hamas politician has told the BBC it "will go for this deal" if Israel does.

The negotiations come as fighting continues in Rafah, with reports of Israeli air strikes on Saturday in the city on Egypt's border with Gaza.

There is no guarantee that the public pressure by Mr Biden on both Israel and Hamas to accept the plan will result in a deal.

In statement on Saturday, Mr Netanyahu's office said Israel's "conditions for ending the war have not changed".

It listed these as "the destruction of Hamas military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel".

The statement added Israel would "continue to insist these conditions are met" before agreeing to a permanent ceasefire, emphasising that no deal could be signed before meeting them.

On Friday, Mr Biden described the plan as a comprehensive Israeli proposal that paved the way for a permanent ceasefire.

The first phase would include a full and complete ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from populated areas and the exchange of some hostages for Palestinian prisoners.

This would then be followed by the return of all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers.

The final phase would see the remains of any deceased Israeli hostages returned, as well as a "major reconstruction plan" with US and international assistance to rebuild homes, schools and hospitals, Mr Biden said.

A total end to the conflict has been a key Hamas demand to engage in talks.

Following Mr Netanyahu's restating of his aims for the war, a spokesman for Hamas said it would back the plan if Israel did.

Basem Naim, a member of Hamas's political bureau based in Qatar, told the BBC World Service's Newshour programme that the organisation welcomed the plan, but the next step relied on Israel.

In response to Mr Netanyahu's statement, he noted Israel's aims might not have changed, but it also had not achieved them.

"If he tries to continue, he will not find anything except the readiness of the Palestinians - all Palestinians - to resist the occupation," Mr Naim said.

The proposal laid out by Mr Biden seems to give the opportunity for both Israel and Hamas to say that their demands had been met.

For Hamas, it explicitly paves the way for a permanent ceasefire, which has been a key demand of the group for any deal. It wants a guarantee that the Israeli military will not return to Gaza after the hostages are released, and the offer does just that.

This will, without a doubt, face opposition in Israel.

Mr Biden tried to address those concerns by saying that Hamas had been so degraded that it did not have the ability to carry out another major attack on Israel.

He acknowledged, however, that not everyone in Israel would accept the deal, but urged the government to resist pressure.

Those who are likely to be against the plan include far-right members of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition, who have previously threatened to quit in case of any deal that would see the end of the war before the destruction of Hamas. This could lead to the end of the Netanyahu government.

But one of Israel's most influential opposition politicians, Yair Lapid, has promised to back Mr Netanyahu if he supports the ceasefire deal.

In a post on social media, Mr Lapid told the Israeli PM that he "has our safety net for a hostage deal" if far-right allies like national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and finance minister Bezalel Smotrich leave the government.

The statement from Mr Netanyahu's office seemed to be vague enough for him to be able to claim that his objectives had been achieved.

Interestingly, it did not talk about “total victory” - which he has repeatedly said was the aim of the Israeli military in Gaza.

This omission may allow Mr Netanyahu to reject criticism that the deal offers major concessions to Hamas.

Israel has ramped up attacks in the key city of Rafah in recent weeks, claiming operational control over the entire border with Egypt.

US, Israeli and Egyptian officials are due to meet in Cairo on Sunday to discuss reopening the Rafah crossing, according to Egyptian media reports.

Aid flows into Gaza have been restricted since the border was shut in early May, after Israeli forces seized control of it as part of their offensive to take control of Gaza's southern border.

More than 36,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the conflict, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The war began in October when Hamas gunmen launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking 252 back to Gaza as hostages.