As Israel and Hamas engage in indirect negotiations over the release of some 240 hostages taken in the armed group’s attacks on Oct. 7, the outlines of a possible deal are taking shape, officials say, although stumbling blocks remain.
After weeks of talks, facilitated in part by Qatar, President Biden’s deputy national security adviser, Jon Finer, said Sunday that Israel and Hamas were close to a deal but warned that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” and that the fragile negotiations could still fall apart.
Here’s what we know about the status of the negotiations:
Talks are coalescing around a brief pause in fighting. During the pause, hostages would be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli officials said in recent days that negotiations centered around Hamas releasing 50 women and children held hostage in exchange for roughly the same number of Palestinian women and teenagers held in Israeli prisons — and pausing hostilities for several days. One Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said there’s still disagreement over the length of any pause and how many hostages would be released for how many prisoners.
What Israel wants: The Israeli government has publicly taken a hard line on the hostages, saying repeatedly that there will be no cease-fire until the captives are released. The talks behind closed doors, though, suggest there might be wiggle room. The Israeli official said that phased exchanges have been proffered in the negotiations but that some in the Israeli government want all the hostages to be released at once.
What Hamas wants: Hamas has said it is seeking a full cease-fire and the release of all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. It also has added a new condition for releasing civilian hostages: The delivery of fuel to Gaza’s collapsing hospitals. Israel has allowed some fuel into Gaza in recent days for United Nations relief operations, but has opposed more shipments because it argues they could be diverted by Hamas for military use.
Sticking points remain, but the time may be right for an agreement. The Israeli official said that any deal would require a government vote, and some right-wing Israeli politicians have suggested they will oppose any agreement with Hamas. Israel believes that by taking Al-Shifa Hospital, which it says Hamas uses as a military command center and its patients as human shields, the militant group is deprived of a key asset and more inclined to trade hostages, officials have said. The Israeli government is also under pressure from relatives of the hostages, who are demanding swift action to free their loved ones.