Hamas’s response to a new cease-fire proposal has been met with optimism by mediators, but details emerging from its counterproposal on Wednesday, including a demand for a complete Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza, revealed many of the same sticking points that have hampered previous efforts to end the Israel-Hamas war.
Under the militant group’s proposal, both sides would observe a three-stage cease-fire over 135 days, each stage lasting 45 days, during which hostages and Palestinian prisoners in Israel would be released. It calls for the Israeli military to ultimately leave Gaza altogether — a demand Israeli officials so far have publicly rejected.
Neither Hamas nor Israel formally released details about the proposal, which it submitted to Egyptian and Qatari mediators on Tuesday night. A spokesman for Hamas declined to comment, and the Israeli prime minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
But the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, considered close to Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, published a leaked version of Hamas’s counterproposal on Wednesday, offering the closest look yet at its terms for ending the fighting. A senior Hamas official and an Israeli official familiar with the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the text in Al-Akhbar matched Hamas’s counteroffer.
Hamas’s willingness to negotiate under a broad framework hammered out by Qatar, Egypt, Israel and the United States at talks in Paris late last month has been widely seen as a positive step.
But a key point of contention between Israel and Hamas has been the truce’s duration: Hamas demands a permanent cease-fire, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed Israel will fight until “complete victory.”
During the second phase, talks aimed at achieving “complete calm” and the end of military operations by both sides must be completed, according to the counterproposal.
The Paris framework laid out plans that would begin with a six-week cease-fire, but the Hamas’s counteroffer fills it out with many more details not contained in the original Paris framework, including the number of days each phase of the deal would last
Under Hamas’s proposal, in the first stage, Israeli forces would retreat from Gaza’s residential areas. In the next phase, the Israeli military would leave Gaza.
During the first two phases, Hamas would release Israelis and foreign nationals held hostage in the Gaza Strip, while Israel would release some of the more than 8,000 Palestinians imprisoned in its jails. During the third phase, both Israel and Hamas would swap bodies held in their custody.
Roughly 100 living hostages remain in Gaza, the vast majority of them abducted in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, as do the bodies of more than 30 others, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office.
As part of the first phase, Hamas is demanding the release of all the Palestinian women, children, older adults and sick Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. In exchange, Hamas would release all of the hostages in those same categories still held in Gaza, except for female soldiers.
Another 1,500 Palestinian prisoners would also be released during the first phase, including 500 serving long sentences for their involvement in deadly attacks against Israelis. Hamas would choose the names of the 500 prisoners serving long sentences, the document says.
Last week, Mr. Netanyahu vowed that Israel would not release thousands of Palestinian prisoners or withdraw Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip under the terms of a cease-fire agreement. “We will not compromise on anything less than total victory,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a speech in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Michael Milshtein, a former senior Israeli military intelligence officer, said the proposed deal would effectively end the war with Hamas while leaving the Palestinian armed group in power in Gaza. But given the deadlock in which Israel has found itself in Gaza, that might be the best possible scenario for the country, he said.
“Under its current policy, Israel is not succeeding at either bringing home the hostages nor toppling Hamas. Since we’ve reached this junction, it may be better to take the deal rather than end up with nothing,” said Mr. Milshtein.
Palestinians would also be allowed to return to their homes across the Gaza Strip during the first stage of the cease-fire, under the Hamas counterproposal, which would also mandate a significant increase in humanitarian aid entering the coastal enclave. It calls for a minimum of 500 trucks of aid, fuel, and other goods to enter Gaza daily.
Mr. Netanyahu has said Israel won’t allow displaced Palestinians to return to their homes in northern Gaza as long as fighting there continues.
Analysts close to Hamas contended that the group would not be able to offer concessions on the thorniest issues in the negotiations.
“Keeping one occupation soldier in Gaza would be a defeat and a catastrophe,” said Salah al-Din al-Awawdeh, a Palestinian analyst close to Hamas who was released from an Israel prison in 2011. “No one will accept that.”
Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, said in a televised interview on Tuesday night that the group’s leadership would support a phased cease-fire and gradual Israeli withdrawal as long as the process ultimately led to a final truce.
“Israel wants to get all the hostages and then have the absolute freedom to return to war and killing and assassinations,” Mr. Hamad told al-Mayadeen, the Lebanese broadcaster. “But at the end, we need a text that clearly guarantees a comprehensive cease-fire and the withdrawal of occupation forces.”