Israeli captive families call on government to accept Biden plan for Gaza

Hamas says it is open to plan announced by Biden ‘based on the foundation of a permanent ceasefire, complete withdrawal’ from Gaza.

Palestinians make their way, as they inspect the damage after Israeli forces withdrew from Jabalia refugee camp, following a raid, in the northern Gaza Strip, May 31, 2024. REUTERS/Mahmoud Issa TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Palestinians make their way, as they inspect the damage after Israeli forces withdrew from the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip [Mahmoud Issa/Reuters]

Family members of Israeli captives held in Gaza have called on their country’s government to accept a ceasefire plan presented by United States President Joe Biden, calling on the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to publicly support the proposal.

In a weekly press conference held on Saturday, the Hostage and Missing Families Forum said that it was calling for the “the citizens of Israel to take to the streets in order to ensure the completion of the deal”.

The forum believes that Netanyahu may be obstructing a deal, after Biden said in a news conference at the White House on Friday that Israel had put forward “a comprehensive new proposal” to end the war.

The three-phase plan described by Biden seeks to implement a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that involves the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza and the release of all Israelis held captive in the strip.

Hamas has indicated that it is open to the proposal, raising hopes of a halt to Israel’s eight-month war.

In a statement, the group said it “reaffirms its readiness to positively engage and cooperate with any proposal based on the foundation of a permanent ceasefire, complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, reconstruction, the return of displaced people to their homes, and the completion of a genuine prisoner exchange deal, provided that the occupation announces its explicit commitment to this”.

And in a joint statement, the US, Qatar, and Egypt jointly called on Hamas and Israel to finalise an agreement.

But on Saturday, Netanyahu was adamant in declaring that for Israel’s war on Gaza to end, Hamas must be destroyed.

“Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed: the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel,” his office said in a statement.

It said those conditions must be met, “before a permanent ceasefire is put in place”.

“The notion that Israel will agree to a permanent ceasefire before these conditions are fulfilled is a non-starter,” it added.

The Hostage and Missing Families Forum said that Netanyahu was under pressure from within his own government.

“There is a minority that is blackmailing Netanyahu and threatening the deal, and we must support the deal and not leave the arena to extremists,” a spokesperson said.

In a post on the social media platform X, American news publication Axios reported that Israel’s ultranationalist ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich have told Netanyahu that they will leave the coalition and topple the government if the proposal for the hostage deal presented by Biden goes through.

Abdullah al-Arian, professor of history at Georgetown University in Qatar, pointed out a “major contradiction” in Israel’s demands, with both Israel and its staunch ally the US saying they do not want a future in Gaza in which Hamas has any kind of political role left.

“At the same time, this is an agreement that would have to be reached through negotiations with Hamas, so, how do you do that? How do you eliminate them as a political force and at the same time reach a negotiated solution that is agreed upon by all parties,” he told Al Jazeera.

Another “major sticking point” to an eventual deal would be Israel remaining as an occupying force in some parts of Gaza, which he said Palestinians have continuously rejected.

Alon Liel, former director of Israel’s foreign ministry, said Biden’s announcement was “music to the ears of the Israelis who want to end the war”.

But, there is a “mixed message again coming from Washington,” he told Al Jazeera. “The surprising thing was that [the ceasefire proposal] was described as an Israeli offer. This contradicts many things that Netanyahu said recently; it looks more like an American offer that is presented as an Israeli one,” Liel said.

The armed group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, meanwhile, expressed “suspicion” of the plan announced by Biden saying the “cessation of aggression” must involve “complete withdrawal” of Israeli forces from Gaza.

Blinken lobbies Middle East leaders

Even as Biden presented the new plan, Israel continued its deadly attacks in Gaza, with artillery fire hitting residential buildings in the northern neighbourhoods of Gaza City, killing several Palestinians.

Another early morning Israeli strike in Gaza City also killed a journalist, identified as Ola al-Dahdouh, according to the Palestinian TV channel Al-Aqsa.

Israeli forces also hammered Rafah in southern Gaza with tanks and artillery, while witnesses in the east and centre of Rafah described intense artillery shelling.

In the shadow of the continuous Israeli bombardment, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held discussions with the top diplomats of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey amid efforts to gather support for the new Gaza ceasefire plan.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud received a call from Blinken, during which they discussed the latest proposal, the Saudi state news agency said.

According to State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, Blinken “emphasised that Hamas should accept the deal without delay”, in those telephone calls from his plane as he returned from a NATO meeting in Prague.

“[Blinken] underscored that the proposal is in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the long-term security of the region,” Miller added.

In Israel, opposition leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to agree to the deal, saying his party would support it even if right-wing factions in the governing coalition rebelled, meaning a deal would likely pass in parliament.

“The government of Israel cannot ignore President Biden’s consequential speech. There is a deal on the table and it should be made,” Lapid said in a social media post on Saturday.

Families of the people held captive in Gaza also called on all parties to immediately back the proposal outlined by Biden, warning that time was running out with the onus on both Israel and Hamas to accept the deal.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s president-elect, Prabowo Subianto, welcomed Biden’s ceasefire proposal as a step in the right direction. He said his country is willing to send peacekeeping troops to maintain a ceasefire in Gaza if required.

“When needed and when requested by the UN, we are prepared to contribute significant peacekeeping forces to maintain and monitor this prospective ceasefire as well as providing protection and security to all parties and to all sides,” he told a security conference in Singapore on Saturday.

Israeli attacks on Gaza since the start of the war have killed at least 36,379 people and wounded 82,407 others, with thousands more missing under the rubble and presumed dead. Israel launched its assault on the besieged territory after a Hamas-led attack in southern Israel killed about 1,140 people.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies