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October 31, 2023
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One-Week Ceasefire to allow Prisoner Swap and Entry of Aid 

In parallel with the field escalation and the ongoing permission by the US and the West for Israel to shed Palestinian blood, and Israel’s attempts to achieve battlefield results, it appears that in the last five days, Washington is starting to feel that the situation requires greater intervention in Israeli decisions, whether to set more accurate and realistic goals for the ground operation or to initiate negotiations that could start through humanitarian channels. According to Al Akhbar’s information, preliminary diplomatic moves seem to extend beyond the humanitarian ceasefire to touch on a comprehensive solution.

Several mediations have become active, starting between Washington, Doha, and Cairo, and have been expanded to include Ankara and Paris, in coordination with executive mediators such as the United Nations and the International Red Cross.

The developments began after President Joe Biden’s administration suffered a major setback with the failure of Egypt’s project to open the Rafah border crossing to enable the displacement of Gaza residents. The United States also saw the futility of its rhetoric about the necessity of releasing civilian prisoners held by resistance factions before Hamas had announced its readiness to engage in a prisoner exchange deal. However, the ‘s behavior regarding the entry of aid through Rafah complicated matters significantly and prompted Cairo, along with Ankara and Doha, to inform the Americans that it is difficult to persuade Hamas to proceed with the operation as long as Israel’s behavior remains unchanged.”

According to the Egyptians, whose government appears disgraceful in everything it does, there is an unprecedented weakness in Egypt’s history. They argue that Israel is obstructing the initial agreement that stipulated the entry of twenty aid trucks daily and imposes humiliating procedures that delay the arrival of trucks and prevent some from entering. The Egyptians have warned that maintaining the status quo will complicate any political attempt to address the hostage issue.

As a result, several initiatives have been launched, some of which are limited to the temporary humanitarian aspect, and others open the door to discussions that could lead to a cessation of hostilities. Meanwhile, the Americans were monitoring the situation of their ally. The comprehensive mobilization in Israel did not result in productive unity in the government’s actions, with confusion in decisions, Benjamin Netanyahu’s expansion of the circle of military and field consultations, criticism from within the government itself, and his conflict with security agency leaders. All of this has heightened doubts about the possibility of achieving a qualitative or speedy breakthrough. While Washington did not pressure Israel to stop its massacres, it found the timing right to initiate other pathways. The process of transforming the mission of releasing civilians, including American citizens, into a political process, even with a humanitarian aspect, especially as American obstinacy is no longer able to override the voices opposing war.

Hamas was the quickest to seize the moment, releasing two Israeli detainees, providing the Qatari mediator with a boost to its negotiating position with the Americans. It did the same by releasing two other detainees through Egyptians interested in their role in the negotiations. With Turkey, Russia, and other countries entering the fray, the matter evolved into a working document presented by the mediators to accomplish the agreement’s provisions. Hamas, for its part, stated that it is ready to positively consider two proposals: the first, related to a partial prisoner exchange, and the second, related to a comprehensive operation.

In the partial solution, the release of around 50 civilian detainees held by the resistance with American, European, Russian, Turkish, and Asian nationalities was proposed in exchange for the Israel’s release of Palestinian female and child prisoners and those suffering from difficult health conditions. This exchange would be accompanied by an increase in humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, including fuel.

As the details of the arrangement were explored, it became evident that the matter required complex logistical arrangements and the cessation of military operations. The Americans understood that they needed to convince Israel to agree to at least a week-long ceasefire, during which:

  1. Civilian detainees would be released simultaneously with  Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners and the wounded.
  2. The Gaza Strip would receive more humanitarian aid, including fuel supplies.
  3. Relief operations would be organized for the injured and wounded, and they would be transported for treatment.
  4. Discussions on the humanitarian and political aspects of the deal would begin.

This week-long ceasefire was considered necessary to facilitate the exchange of detainees and to address the humanitarian aspects of the agreement, involving:

  • The resistance would need to finalize the exact number of detainees within all factions, identify who is alive and who was captured or killed in Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, and differentiate between those categorized as “civilian” and “military.” The resistance does not consider reserve soldiers as civilians. The resistance factions would need to develop a mechanism for conducting the verification process, including secret field details related to execution.
  • Egypt would organize the entry of aid and open El Arish airport to receive relief materials as part of a mechanism through which the United Nations accelerates the transportation of aid during the ceasefire days to all areas of the Gaza Strip, with no veto on any materials, including fuel.
  • Israel would coordinate with the International Red Cross to establish lists of names of those expected to be released and transferred to the execution point.
  • The United States, Qatar, Turkey, and the United Nations would provide guarantees to both sides.

All of these points were expected to be finalized last Thursday after the mediators received the United States’ approval. However, there was a development when the Israeli leaders rejected a partial deal and insisted on the release of all detainees held by the resistance, refusing to classify the detainees as either civilians or military 

According to the information, all of these points were expected to be finalized last Thursday after the mediators received the United States’ approval. However, there was a development when the Israeli leaders rejected a partial deal and insisted on the release of all detainees held by the resistance, refusing to classify the detainees as either civilians or military. It became apparent that Israeli obstruction was due to pressure from “influential figures” in the army and the War Council to proceed directly with the ground operation and convince the public that the release of detainees is the primary objective of the ground operation.

After the Prime Minister of  Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, attempted to deceive the families of detainees by claiming that “Hamas” was rejecting the deal, the resistance released its first official statement on the detainee issue through the spokesperson of the Al-Qassam Brigades, “Abu Ubaida.” Following the publication of Netanyahu’s statements, it was decided that a clearer stance would be announced through the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, who declared the readiness of the resistance to conclude a comprehensive deal immediately.

Mediators reported that the Americans seemed confused initially, but then confirmed their support for the deal. They stated that they were primarily studying Israel’s behavior in the war, particularly its commitment to the recommendation of the US Department of Defense to focus on hitting specific targets of resistance groups without risking major involvement that could lead to serious repercussions.

Despite the setbacks in the efforts and  Israel’s initiative to announce the beginning of its ground operations, communications continued and entered a new phase, especially after  Israel’s Prime Minister announced, for the first time, the start of discussions on the detainee issue within the War Council.

 A “Western” initiative to stop the war and launch reconstruction: a new authority in Gaza and separation forces on the border 

The visible Israeli confusion in managing the battle against the resistance in Gaza, except for the continuation of atrocities against civilians, pushed Western allies of Israel to start looking for ways to avoid a complete defeat. According to information obtained by Al-Akhbar, regional mediators received Western indications of opening a pathway to solutions beyond the humanitarian ceasefire. However, Palestinian sources confirmed the difficulty of discussing complete initiatives, as the Israeli army is seeking to achieve any breakthrough to convince its public that it has emerged victorious. They added that what is happening in practice is that the United States understands Israel’s confusion and that what is being presented under the humanitarian label can be transformed into a permanent solution. They also noted that discussions about initiatives related to post-war matters are still in their early stages, and the resistance forces are considering what is suitable for preserving the victory and bringing life back to the Gaza Strip.

The French authorities have initiated contact with all parties involved in the situation on the ground and have opened a direct line of communication with Doha and Ankara to assess their positions on the possibility of seeking a sustainable solution. So far, the extent of the US authorization for France’s initiative is unknown, and Paris does not claim to have Israeli authorization, especially since mediators previously inquired about guarantees, which is particularly what Hamas raises in every discussion opened with them. According to preliminary information, the French are working to reach a permanent ceasefire, under the humanitarian label, but it aims to explore a comprehensive political solution. The information suggests that the draft French proposal includes:

1. A complete cessation of hostilities on all battlefronts and the cessation of Israeli airstrikes in exchange for the cessation of rocket attacks by the resistance.

2. The preparation of statistical tables for detainees and missing persons from both sides, including the most detailed information, such as full names, date of birth, date of detention, prison location, nationality details, and whether they hold another nationality, as well as recent personal photos for each of them.

3. Agreement on a comprehensive exchange deal in which the resistance releases all its detainees, including those captured in previous wars. In return, Israel releases all detainees without exception, both those sentenced and those held under administrative detention, with a commitment not to arrest them again.

4. The exchange process takes place simultaneously, overseen by the United Nations and the International Red Cross, with guarantees from the intermediary countries responsible for ensuring both parties adhere to the details of the operation.

5. Agreement on the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip without any preconditions, and the delivery of all types of aid to the Arish airport in Sinai. The United Nations would directly oversee the receipt of this aid from donor organizations and monitor its transportation to the Gaza Strip, as well as supervise its distribution.

It appears that the resistance has concerns and significant fears about Israel resorting to disowning the existence of some detainees or attempting to liquidate some of them, attributing it later to health problems. Therefore, the resistance requires clear and comprehensive guarantees of  Israel’s commitment to the agreement and that any attempts by Israel to use legal issues, such as keeping those “with blood on their hands,” as an excuse, or excluding detainees with Israeli nationality from the deal, will be prevented.

On the Israel’s side, concerns relate to aid, and it requests guarantees to allow it to continue inspecting all trucks entering Gaza and guarantees that Hamas and its civil institutions have no role in supervising or distributing aid in the strip.

Who governs the Gaza Strip? 

However, Western discourse does not stop at this section alone; it extends to what is considered the prelude to a comprehensive political solution. Western actors act as if the first part is in Hamas’ interest regarding ending the aggression, releasing prisoners, and delivering aid, and what is important to them is addressing Israel’s concerns regarding the future of the situation in the Gaza Strip. In this context, the French paper addresses points such as:

1. Reconfiguring the internationally recognized Palestinian National Authority and making it responsible for managing the affairs of the entire Gaza Strip.

2. Only allowing employees registered on the Palestinian Authority’s payroll lists to remain in official institutions, entrusting the Palestinian Authority’s police forces, after rehabilitation, with full responsibility for managing the security situation in the sector, and abolishing armed elements not subject to the Palestinian Authority.

3. The Palestinian National Authority assumes responsibility for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, provided that it begins with rebuilding and reconstruction related to strengthening its authority.

4. Gradual progression in the reconstruction program, by developing a program to shelter the displaced whose homes were destroyed, whether through the use of temporary prefabricated homes or other options, provided that a work program is developed for a rapid reconstruction process.

 Guardianship over Gaza? 

According to the same ideas, the discussion moves to the most crucial point, one that Israel raises from the perspective of its need for guarantees through measures that allow it to talk about a stable situation. While Israel, as it attempted in Lebanon in 2006, raises the issue of disarming the resistance in the sector, the concepts in the document attributed to the French include headlines such as:

1. Deploying foreign, Arab, and Islamic forces along the borders between the Gaza Strip and the territories occupied in 1948. Israel stipulates that any state that does not have relations with it should not participate in this force, with consideration that these states should have good or non-hostile relations with Hamas, with direct reference to Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, the UAE, and others. However, no one can confirm the full identity of these forces or their number and armament.

2. Second, these forces will be deployed along the western borders of the Strip with the 1948 territories, reaching a depth of up to 3 kilometers inside the Strip. This would, in some cases, lead to the positioning of forces in open areas, but in other areas, it would result in forces being located adjacent to residential buildings within the Strip.

3. Third, commencing arrangements that allow for the launch of an internationally sponsored negotiation process to reach a permanent political solution over a predefined period. The initiative focuses on the two-state solution without delving into any details.

Practically, the most significant indicator in all of the above is that in the West, there is growing consideration that things may not go according to Israel’s expectations. If we compare the timeline of what is happening in Gaza to what occurred in Lebanon during the 2006 war, it is now possible to think about these developments in a different way.

It is not clear if Israel has come to the realization that they have lost this round, which would be difficult for the entirety of Israel to accept. However, the question now turns towards the United States and the West: will they rush to rescue Israel from itself, or will they leave the door open to potential wider conflict in the region?

What is the link between the prisoners and the ground operation? 

For over a week, Hamas has shown significant flexibility regarding the prisoner exchange deal with the occupying forces. Demands from the United States and European countries to release their nationals detained by the resistance, along with pressure from the families of Israel’s prisoners, have forced everyone to address the issue, coinciding with the ground operation. Internal pressures on Israel’s government increased after the resistance announced the killing of about 50 prisoners in the airstrikes. There have also been discussions about Israel delaying its ground operation, linked to the prisoner issue.

As for the resistance, it is prepared to conclude either a comprehensive deal immediately or a partial one. They openly state that a comprehensive deal requires a complete cessation of hostilities, which is a priority for the resistance, not out of fear for its military capabilities, but to stop the bloodshed and allow for the entry of significant amounts of aid. As for the partial exchange, it remains an important card on their negotiation table.

If the resistance can distinguish between civilian and military prisoners, this luxury is not available to Israel’s leaders, who seek to absorb public anger and consider the matter from a perspective that serves their military operation.

All Israel’s plans that are being talked about to confront the “tunnel challenge” are still hypothetical. The discussion here revolves around an underground tunnel network that collectively forms an entire city, housing the leadership of the resistance and a large number of fighters and equipment. It’s a massive “city” that could be likened to a “metro” since the resistance relies on maps, numbers, and signals for navigation inside. It is divided in a way that not everyone knows all its details, and many groups only know the routes that concern them and cannot cross into areas assigned to other units.

In practice, Israel officers operate on the basis that they are dealing with two worlds on the same land. If accessing the underground city requires destroying the upper city, it enters the realm of fantasy.  

In practice, Israeli officers operate on the basis that they are dealing with two worlds on the same land. If accessing the underground city requires destroying the upper city, it enters the realm of fantasy. As for discussing specific strikes, that requires working based on intelligence findings. Precise targeting under the ground would need the assistance of specialized agencies.

Israeli officers have listened to numerous details from released detainees. The narratives of these individuals do not contain any new information that benefits Israel. They speak of traveling in very long tunnels underground. There’s a geometric distribution of chambers and assembly points for forces and prisoners. This includes descriptions of the nature of the earth, ceilings, and what can be referred to as the “tunnel shirt.”In practical terms, Israel needs advanced technology to identify what is beneath the ground. This technology is used by geologists and has been developed by international companies working in oil, gas, water, and mineral exploration beneath the earth’s surface. In addition, there are sensor devices used by armies in their naval operations to monitor moving objects around them or to confirm the presence of debris or rock barriers. Israel possesses this technology and uses sensor devices to identify what is buried underground or underwater. However, when it comes to prisoners, this technology doesn’t allow Israel to distinguish the identities of those underground. Moreover, it has become evident that Gaza’s resistance has introduced special construction materials that hinder the precise determination of human movement.

This article is translated from the original published in Al Akhbar

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