Biden says Israel-Hamas ‘ceasefire’ imminent: What could a deal look like?

While Hamas wants a permanent ceasefire, Netanyahu does not want to halt the war until Hamas is defeated.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden told reporters that he hopes for a ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza by Monday, March 4.

“My national security adviser tells me that we’re close. We’re close. We’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire,” said Biden amid talks mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the United States since January.

How are the Gaza truce talks progressing?

Israeli officials met mediators from Qatar, Egypt and the US in Paris on Friday. Hamas, the Palestinian armed group, was not represented in those talks.

The talks resulted in a framework for a potential truce along with captive-prisoner exchanges which Israel agreed to, sources have told Al Jazeera.

US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Israel and the mediators “came to an understanding” on the basic terms of a deal.

An Israeli military delegation is expected to fly to Qatar for more intensive talks in the coming days. Qatar has been at the forefront of mediation efforts including Israel, Hamas, and other nations — including the US — to help secure more aid for Gaza amid the war, and to bring about a ceasefire.

What’s at stake?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared plans to launch a military assault on Rafah, the southernmost urban area of the strip, where 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering and on the brink of famine. Most of them are internally displaced, having fled their homes to escape Israel’s bombardment and ground invasions throughout the rest of Gaza.

While a ground incursion on Rafah looms, air strikes began on February 8 and have hit residential areas, killing civilians in the city that shares a border with Egypt. On February 21, al-Faruq mosque in Rafah was flattened by Israeli air strikes.

Israeli attacks have killed roughly 3,523 Palestinians in Gaza in the past month, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on October 7 last year, with thousands more buried under the rubble and presumed dead.

Humanitarian agencies and Western allies of Israel are pressing Israel to hold back on a full-blown invasion of Rafah for fear of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Israel is facing further pressure from two legal cases mounted at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). One of these, filed by South Africa, directly accuses Israel of committing genocide in Gaza, while the other is seeking legal clarification on the status of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

South Africa’s genocide case against Israel resulted in the ICJ issuing a set of provisional measures last month, including orders for Israel to cease all genocidal acts and to take all possible actions to ensure no genocidal acts are committed. Human Rights Watch released a statement on Monday saying Israel is not complying with the measures, however.

Ramadan, the holy month during which Muslims observe fast during the day, will likely begin on March 10. Arab countries have voiced fears that a continuation of fighting during Ramadan will lead to further conflict in the region. “Ramadan’s coming up, and there’s been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out,” said Biden.

What is each side demanding?

Hamas wants all displaced Palestinians to be able to return to their homes across Gaza. Additionally, Hamas wants more humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza alongside a reconstruction plan to build or repair infrastructure destroyed or damaged by the Israeli bombardment.

A source told Al Jazeera that Israel has said it will allow the gradual return of displaced people to the northern Gaza Strip, with the exception of “those of military service age”. Israel has also accepted Hamas’s request that more aid be allowed into the strip.

Israel is demanding the total demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip. This means Hamas would have to disarm itself, a condition the group would be highly unlikely to accept.

Would an agreement entail a full ceasefire?

Israel and Hamas fundamentally disagree on the conditions required for a ceasefire.

Hamas wants a permanent ceasefire under which Israel will withdraw its forces from Gaza. However, Netanyahu has stated that he does not want to end Israel’s military campaign until a “total victory” has been secured over Hamas to which an invasion of Rafah is deemed key.

The Israeli prime minister is demanding that Israel maintain an open-ended control over Gaza’s security and civilian affairs after the war. He also wants to hand-pick Palestinian officials to govern the Strip. Palestinian officials have rejected Netanyahu’s post-war vision for Gaza.

Unlike Hamas, which wants a permanent ceasefire, Israel is ready to accept a “temporary halt” to fighting during a captive-prisoner swap. Israeli media have quoted officials talking about a six-week truce during Ramadan.

What about another captive-prisoner swap?

Israel has offered to release 400 Palestinian prisoners, including a number of those with lengthy sentences, in exchange for the release of 40 Israeli captives. Hamas had initially demanded a large-scale release of Palestinian prisoners.

About 130 captives, taken by Hamas on October 7 during its assault on southern Israel, remain in Gaza.

What happened during the truce in November?

A truce deal in November led to a weeklong pause in fighting during which Hamas released 105 captives and Israel released 240 Palestinian prisoners. While the agreement was originally for a four-day pause, it was extended twice.

The UN humanitarian office, OCHA, reported that despite the pause in fighting at that time, Israeli forces shot at Palestinians in northern Gaza on November 29, killing two people. They also shelled people in Gaza City and towards the Gaza shore in the south on November 30.

As soon as the truce ended on December 1, Israel resumed air strikes on Gaza and ordered the residents of Khan Younis in central Gaza to evacuate further south.

INTERACTIVE - The besieged Gaza Strip nowhere to go-1696766807

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies