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How leaders and diplomats are trying to end the war in Gaza

How leaders and diplomats are trying to end the war in Gaza

Top officials from at least ten different administrations are trying to hammer out a dizzying series of deals to end the war in Gaza and answer the contentious question of how the territory will be governed after the fighting ends.

The smallest set of major discussions concerns reaching a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. This would involve the exchange of more than 100 Israeli hostages held by Hamas for a ceasefire and thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

A second track focuses on overhauling the Palestinian Authority, the semi-autonomous body that administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. U.S. and Arab officials are discussing an overhaul of the authority’s leadership and its takeover of Gaza after the war ends, assuming power at the expense of Israel and Hamas.

In a third way, U.S. and Saudi officials are pushing Israel to accept terms for the creation of a Palestinian state in exchange for Saudi Arabia establishing formal ties with Israel for the very first time.

The demands and outcomes discussed in the three processes are linked, and the talks are generally seen as long-term projects. The war began with the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack that killed about 1,200 people, Israeli officials said. The Israeli counterattack has left more than 25,000 Palestinians dead in Gaza, Health Ministry officials say. President Biden has given his full support to Israel in the war.

Significant obstacles must be overcome in each round of negotiations. Most notable is that the Israeli government says it will not allow full Palestinian sovereignty, raising doubts about the possibility of progress on key fronts. And the Israeli military campaign has not destroyed Hamas, so it is unclear how Hamas could be persuaded to withdraw while it still controls part of Gaza.

The United States is the power trying to bring it all together. Brett McGurk, the top White House official for the Middle East, was in the region last week and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke to him several times on the phone during a trip to Africa, a senior State Department official said. The Biden administration wants to ensure that a senior U.S. official speaks face-to-face with Israeli and Arab leaders at all times.

Officials float many ideas, most of which are provisional, long-term or strongly contested by certain parties. Several controversial suggestions are:

  • Transfer power in the Palestinian Authority from outgoing President Mahmoud Abbas to a new prime minister, while letting Mr. Abbas retain a ceremonial role.

  • Sending an Arab peacekeeping force to Gaza to strengthen a new Palestinian administration.

  • Pass a U.N. Security Council resolution, supported by the United States, that would recognize the Palestinian right to statehood.

What follows is a road map for the three tracks, based on interviews with more than a dozen diplomats and other officials involved in the talks, all of whom spoke anonymously in order to discuss them more freely .

Americans view ending the war as the first thing the parties must achieve. These talks are closely linked to negotiations for the release of more than 100 hostages captured during the carnage of October 7 and held by Hamas and its allies. Hamas said it would not release the hostages until Israel agreed to a permanent ceasefire, a position inconsistent with Israel’s stated goal of fighting until Hamas was removed. from Gaza.

Officials from the United States, Israel, Egypt and Qatar are discussing a deal that would suspend fighting for up to two months. In November, the sides agreed to a brief pause that allowed Hamas to free more than 100 hostages.

In one proposal, hostages would be released in stages during a break of up to 60 days in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Some officials have suggested that Israeli civilians would be released first, in exchange for Palestinian women and minors detained by Israel. Captured Israeli soldiers would then be exchanged for Palestinian militant leaders serving long-term sentences.

Diplomats on both sides hope that more detailed discussions can take place during the break on a permanent truce that could involve the withdrawal of most or all Israeli troops, the departure of Hamas leaders from the Gaza Strip and a transition of power to the Palestinian Authority. . So far, Israel and Hamas have each rejected some of these conditions.

To try to advance these negotiations, William J. Burns, the director of the CIA, plans to meet in the coming days in Europe with senior Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari counterparts.

Some observers hope that the World Court’s call Friday for Israel to comply with the Genocide Convention will provide momentum and political cover for Israeli officials pushing internally to end the war.

The Palestinian Authority briefly controlled Gaza after Israeli troops left in 2005, but Hamas forced it from power two years later. Today, some want authority to return to Gaza and play a role in post-war governance. To make the idea more attractive to Israel, which opposes it, the United States, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are working to overhaul the authority and change its direction .

Under its current president, Mahmoud Abbas, 88, the government is widely perceived as both corrupt and authoritarian. Mediators are encouraging him to take a more ceremonial role and cede executive power to a new prime minister who could oversee Gaza’s reconstruction and reduce corruption. U.S. officials say the goal is to make the authority a more plausible administrator of a future Palestinian state. Israeli officials also say authorities must change their education system, which they say does not promote peace, and end welfare benefits paid to people convicted of violence against Israelis.

Some of Mr. Abbas’s critics want him to be replaced by Salam Fayyad, a Princeton professor credited with modernizing the authority during his stint as prime minister a decade ago, or by Nasser al-Kidwa, a former Palestinian envoy to the UN who broke with Mr. Abbas. three years ago. But diplomats say Mr. Abbas is pushing for a candidate over whom he has more influence, such as Mohammad Mustafa, his longtime economic adviser.

Some officials have proposed the creation of an Arab peacekeeping force to help the new Palestinian leader maintain order in the post-war Gaza Strip. Israeli officials reject the idea, but have floated the idea of ​​a multinational force under Israeli supervision in the Gaza Strip. American diplomats told the Israelis this month that Arab leaders opposed their idea.

In the most ambitious round of negotiations, the Biden administration has restarted talks with Saudi Arabia for the Saudis to agree to formal diplomatic relations with Israel.

The three-way deal was under discussion before the Oct. 7 attacks, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia appeared to be in favor of it as the Biden administration proposed a U.S.-Saudi defense treaty, cooperation on a nuclear program civil and greater cooperation. arms sales. Under the arrangement, U.S. officials say, the Saudis would have accepted Israel’s relatively minor concessions on the Palestinian issue in exchange for Saudi recognition.

This recognition would constitute a significant political victory for U.S. and Israeli leaders because of Saudi Arabia’s status as a leading Arab and Muslim nation.

However, since the start of the war, Saudi Arabia and the United States have raised the price on Israel, now insisting that Israel commit to a process leading to a Palestinian state and including Palestinian governance of Gaza . U.S. officials also told Israelis that Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries would only agree to donate money for Gaza’s reconstruction if Israeli leaders commit to a path toward Palestinian statehood.

The new conditions were first expressed publicly by Mr. Blinken after meeting with Prince Mohammed at a desert tent camp in Saudi Arabia this month. He delivered them to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after flying from there to Tel Aviv. He reiterated them during a public speech in Davos, Switzerland, as did Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser.

Mr Netanyahu has publicly rejected this proposal – recently pledging to maintain Israel’s military control over the entire West Bank and Gaza. Many Israelis support the proposal, although some U.S. officials question whether it represents an open-minded stance on Mr. Netanyahu’s part.

To reassure the Saudis and Palestinians, some officials have suggested a U.N. Security Council resolution, backed by the United States, that would enshrine the Palestinians’ right to sovereignty. But the idea has not yet caught on.

There is also the question of whether the Biden administration can offer Prince Mohammed a mutual defense treaty approved by the Senate. Some Democratic senators have already expressed concerns about such a treaty. And the chances that Republican senators will oppose it are expected to increase as the US presidential election in November draws closer.

Patrick Kingsley reported from Abu Dhabi, and Edward Wong of Washington. The report was provided by Aaron Boxerman, Adam Rasgon And Isabelle Kershner from Jerusalem; Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv; Farnaz Fassihi from New York; And Julian E. Barnes of Washington.

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Mattie B. Jiménez

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