NYT: Expect a cease-fire by the weekend

Will the war — or the latest iteration of it — be over in two days? The New York Times provides the first hint of a timetable for a cessation of hostilities between Hamas and Israel. Supposedly the terms of the deal are already known, which isn’t surprising since it’s the same terms used in every cease-fire between the two:

Israel and Hamas will likely reach a cease-fire agreement within the next two days, according to a senior Israeli official familiar with the negotiations and two others who corroborated the account.

The cease-fire under discussion would come in stages. The first would include the cessation of all Israeli attacks on Hamas infrastructure and facilities, and an end to Israeli attempts to kill senior Hamas members, the officials said.

Hamas would halt all rocket fire at Israeli cities. Israel is also demanding that Hamas stop digging attack tunnels toward Israel and halt violent demonstrations on the Gaza-Israeli border, said the officials, who asked not to be named because they were discussing negotiations still underway.

The agreement also aims to include later stages, after a cease-fire takes effect, including returning the bodies of two soldiers held by Hamas and two Israeli civilians detained by the group. In return, the officials said, Israel would allow the passage of goods and funds into Gaza.

Any cease-fire would necessarily be predicated on a halt to rocket fire. Hamas paused its attacks yesterday for eight hours, suggesting that an opening might be forthcoming, but then began firing hundreds of salvos as Israeli cities again. They have launched over four thousand such rockets, most of which have either failed to get out of Gaza or have been shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome defensive systems.

One problem highlighted by the NYT’s Ronen Bergman is the ability to contact Hamas officials for negotiations. Israel has taken a much more aggressive posture in this conflict against Hamas’ command-and-control assets, which is why they took down the building that also housed the AP and Al Jazeera. Egypt’s negotiators are having trouble staying in contact with their Hamas partners while the IDF targets them.

Perhaps that’s why the NYT report stands in contrast to a more pessimistic take from the Washington Post:

The violence continued despite increasing international pressure on both parties and reports that an “imminent” cease-fire could come as early as Friday. President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire.”

But Israeli warplanes again pounded Gaza overnight as Hamas rocket barrages, after a lull of several hours in the early morning, targeted communities in southern Israel into the afternoon. There were few other signs of the conflict letting up overnight.

Citing an Egyptian security source, Reuters reported that the sides had agreed in principle to a cease-fire after help from mediators though the details were still being negotiated.

A Hamas spokesman, when asked if a cease-fire was imminent, said in a text message Thursday: “Ceasefire is likely taking place soon, but this highly dependent on how much Israeli occupation respects Palestinians’ rights.”

But asked Thursday morning if a cease-fire would begin Friday, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said no.

“We are definitely seeing very significant international pressure,” he told public radio station Kan.We will finish the operation when we decide we have attained our goals.”

One of those goals is the decapitation of Hamas’ military leadership, so that could certainly be a problem for cease-fire negotiations. Israel gets pushed into cease-fires that leave Hamas well enough to rebuild for the next battle in the war. Netanyahu clearly wants to change that status quo before entering another cease-fire under US pressure, so it might take a while longer before Bibi thinks the point has been made. That’s why he spoke of “conquest” as an option on the table, even though the last thing Israel wants is to reincorporate Gaza into Israel proper.

At any rate, it will eventually come to an end, and Israel and Hamas will still exist. The real question won’t be conquest in either direction, but liberation — as in, when will Israel’s allies start working to liberate Gazans from Hamas?