Qatar: Hostage Talks in 'Stalemate' As Rafah Op Unfolds

AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

If news out of Doha and Cairo seemed sparse lately, it wasn't just your imagination. For the last several months, mediators in both capitals attempted to craft a deal between Hamas and Israel to pause hostilities and exchange hostages for prisoners. The US put a lot of pressure on all sides to come up with a formula for another temporary cease-fire, only to run up against a hard reality – neither side will agree to their own destruction.

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Qatar's prime minister today announced that nothing has changed in the lengthy stalemate. He also blamed the current impasse on Israel's launch of the long-awaited Rafah operation targeting the estimated four brigades Hamas has hidden in the city:

Talks over a ceasefire in Gaza have reached a stalemate due to Israel's operations in Rafah, Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said on Tuesday. ...

"Especially in the past few weeks, we have seen some momentum building but unfortunately, things didn't move in the right direction and right now we are in a status of almost a stalemate. Of course, what happened with Rafah sent us backward," Sheikh Mohammed said at an economic forum in Doha.

Momentum? What momentum? The talks went nowhere before the operation began in Rafah, too, which is why Israel finally tired of waiting. Hamas refused to budge off of its maximalist demands and then began to refuse to release live hostages to meet the formula being negotiated. The only momentum in the talks before the Rafah op went in the wrong direction, boosted in no small measure by the Biden administration's increasingly hostile posture toward Israel.

Sheikh Mohammed did, however, offer a pretty honest assessment of the nature of the stalemate, at least as far as he went:

"There is one party that wants to end the war and then talk about the hostages and there is another party who wants the hostages and wants to continue the war. As long as there is not any commonality between those two things it won't get us to a result," Sheikh Mohammed said.

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That's not too inaccurate of a description of the present moment in talks, but it's incomplete. One party wants Israel to end this phase of the war but refuses to revise its own mission to conduct war itself until annihilation. Hamas has made clear for the last two decades that it wants to destroy Israel through terror operations like its October 7 "Al-Aqsa Flood" massacres. A cease-fire to them does not end the war, nor does it even bind them against terror operations against Israel. Even while supposedly adhering to such agreements, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad routinely shower Israeli civilian centers with rocket and missile attacks – and they always violate these agreements when they believe they can conduct successful terror operations against Israel.

Just to remind everyone: there was a cease-fire agreement between Hamas and Israel in place on October 7.

So the gripe from Qatar that the Rafah op has caused the stalemate is nothing but spin. Israel is willing to pause its operations against Hamas for a short period to exchange hostages for prisoners, but it can't afford to get suckered again by Hamas or their interlocutors. The US, especially in the Obama and Biden administrations, posed Hamas as a legitimate negotiating partner for peace while pursuing a two-state solution that Hamas and the rest of the Palestinians explicitly refuse to accept. The US has now gone so far down that road, despite nearly 20 years of Hamas control of Gaza resulting in unending attacks, that Joe Biden and his team now are validating Hamas war crimes and terror tactics by blaming Israel for the civilian deaths caused by Hamas in a war Hamas started.

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The stalemate isn't between two parties that want to end a war but are diametrically opposed to the sequencing. That could easily be resolved. The impasse results from one party that wants to annihilate the other, and the other party's final realization of that reality. That's not just an impasse; it's irreconcilable. Hamas wants war on terms as favorable that it can wring out of the international community, just as it has done over the last two decades. The Israelis now grasp that war will exist as long as Hamas does and that they need to put an end to Hamas in Gaza to end this two-decade war.

And they are putting this realization into action, albeit as carefully as possible to thread diplomatic needles with the US and Egypt. The Rafah offensive has now moved armor into the eastern part of the city while the IDF evacuates people from Rafah proper. The Times of Israel estimates that 450,000 people have left since their warnings that the operation was about to begin. That would be about half of the pre-operation population of the city, which swelled enormously as people fled the northern and central Gaza areas.

Speaking of Egypt, The Wall Street Journal reports today that it is angry about the Rafah operation but has yet to take any specific action. It's considering a diplomatic downgrade of relations, based more on the lack of communication from the Israelis about the seizure of the Rafah crossing than perhaps the operation itself:

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Egypt, a center of Arab military, political and cultural power, is now considering a downgrade to its diplomatic ties with Israel, Egyptian officials say. Egypt has in recent days said it would join South Africa’s court case charging Israel with genocide. And Egypt has refused to reopen its border with Gaza after Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side of the crossing. ...

The current standoff began when Israel gave Egypt just hours notice before launching the military operation last week in which the Israeli military seized control of the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, Egyptian officials say.

The abrupt message, relayed unexpectedly to Egyptian intelligence officials on May 6, followed months of careful negotiations between Israeli and Egyptian military and intelligence officials over the long-threatened attack on Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering.

Israel had previously briefed Egypt about its plans for Rafah, assuring Cairo that the crossing point, a key entry point for humanitarian aid into the besieged enclave, wouldn’t be affected and that Palestinians there would be given weeks to evacuate the area safely.

“None of these assurances materialized, with Israel giving us a very short notice about entering the crossing,” said an Egyptian official familiar with the events.

If true, perhaps that could have been handled with more diplomatic alacrity. Of course, the Israelis may have worried that any advance notice beyond a few hours would tip off Hamas, perhaps through the Qatari negotiators. Egypt's military aid from the US is dependent on the peace treaty with Israel, and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi cannot afford to risk his life on potentially alienating the current US administration – and more importantly the next one – by cutting Israel loose. Al-Sisi also has no reason to defend the Muslim Brotherhood's Hamas allies either, but he has to keep up appearances for domestic politics. Surprises like the seizure of the crossing don't help, and Israel needs al-Sisi to remain strong at home. 

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That will come to the test very quickly. If the evacuation estimates are accurate, then the IDF will likely get the green light soon to wrest Rafah out of Hamas' grip and set them on the run for good. When that happens, Biden will have to choose between a liberal democracy ally or the terrorist proxies of a theocratic dictatorship bent on world domination. And that will be a tough choice only for the fools running American policy at the moment. 

Addendum: Apparently, we got identified this weekend as "systematically, fanatically pro-Israel" by Michael Tracey, a well-known and often interesting progressive journalist/commentator. I'm not sure what's so "fanatical" about opposing terrorism and supporting a liberal democracy's right to fight a war declared on it by radical-jihadi proxies of Iran and the people who put the terrorists in charge. In fact, it's somewhat mystifying to me how anyone could support any other policy.

However, it's certainly not surprising either. The entire progressive media landscape has bought into the nonsensical "occupier" label for Israel and treats it as an illegitimate state even 76 years after its independence. If you want to support independent media that recognizes the reality of Iran's proxy wars against the West, and progressives' agenda to deconstruct the West, then please support us by becoming a HotAir VIP member today and use promo code FAKENEWS to receive a 50% discount on your membership

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David Strom 5:00 PM | May 23, 2024
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