Mon 19 Feb 2024 11:13 am - Jerusalem Time

Hebrew Newspaper: Netanyahu froze the occupation of Rafah and prisoner exchange negotiations

The political analyst for Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Nahum Barnea, said on Monday that Israel has, in the meantime, frozen the plan to occupy Rafah, because such a military operation is conditional on the transfer of about 1.3 million displaced people in the city to its north, and this requires long and complex diplomatic and logistical efforts, according to a report by the political analyst in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Nahum Barnea, on Monday.

He added that the Israeli political leadership is convinced that most of the hostages in the Gaza Strip are alive and that their health condition is relatively good, but “the worrying problem is their emotional and psychological state, after nearly 140 days in captivity, and in a constant state of panic. Any other day exacerbates this problem.”

According to Barnea, reports about negotiations versus Hamas regarding a prisoner exchange deal are “lies through which the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu misleads the public.” On the eve of the last round of negotiations in Cairo, Netanyahu retracted previous instructions he had given to the Israeli negotiating team, without explaining the reason for this reversal.

It is likely that Netanyahu believed that “a tactical tightening would soften Hamas’ positions or vice versa, and he was terrified by the progress of the negotiations and worked strategically to thwart them. If this was his intention, he succeeded. There are no negotiations currently. And the attempt of CIA chief William Burns, "Bringing the negotiations out of hibernation failed."

Barnea considered that the American, Qatari and Egyptian mediators were presenting proposals and wasting a lot of energy in the negotiations, but Hamas “did not respond, did not panic, and did not surrender. Also, the Israeli political level did not respond to the mediators. Netanyahu talks a lot about emotions, morals, and security, but he acts according to internal political considerations.”

He added that the Israeli military operation in Khan Yunis "revealed" that a large number of hostages were held close to the Hamas leadership, and that their conditions were relatively good.

"The advance of the Israeli army prompted the Hamas leadership to move to other locations, and they took the kidnapped persons with them to less safe places, in the Rafah area. The risks of being injured in an exchange of fire increased, as did the risks to their health and food."

Barnea reported, “The White House has crystallized a solution to this impasse. Instead of a small deal, exchanging kidnapped people for prisoners, it turned to a giant deal: freeing kidnapped people and prisoners, rebuilding the enclave, smoothly deporting Hamas, integrating Israel into an alliance with the Sunni Arab countries, and an American-Saudi defense contract, an achievement for Biden in exchange for the progressive wing of his party, as well as the resumption of negotiations on establishing a Palestinian state. There is no small deal without the big deal, and there is no big deal without the small deal. The Palestinian state is still far away, but it is possible to try.”

He continued that with a solution like this, the Americans turned Netanyahu into “the enemy of liberating the kidnapped. From his point of view, any progress in the negotiations poses an immediate threat to the continuation of his rule. He agreed to send the Israeli crew to Cairo in order to maintain an appearance only in exchange for the families and the American administration. The Israeli crew was neutralized with everything related to negotiations."

Barnea pointed out, "The center of events is moving from Cairo to Washington. Netanyahu and his envoy, Ron Dermer, will try to deal with Biden as they dealt with Obama. This will be a wonderful drama, but it will not bring any kidnapped person back home."


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Hebrew Newspaper: Netanyahu froze the occupation of Rafah and prisoner exchange negotiations