‘War will go on’ because Hamas chose not to accept peace deal, warns Blinken

Updated
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a joint press conference with his Qatari counterpart in Doha on Wednesday
Antony Blinken gives a press conference in Doha on Wednesday - KARIM JAAFAR/AFP

Hamas has sent back an “unworkable” counter-offer to a US-backed ceasefire proposal for Gaza, Antony Blinken warned on Wednesday.

The US secretary of state said “the war will go on” because Hamas was unable to agree to the plans that would include a release of hostages in exchange for a ceasefire.

He added that Hamas had “made a choice to continue the war that they started”.

The accusations come after leaked notes from Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas military leader – and mastermind of the Oct 7 attacks – suggested he was prolonging the war to improve his negotiating position.

Full details of the peace deal and the amendments demanded by Hamas have not been made public. The US says Israel has accepted the deal, but Israel has not publicly backed it.

Hamas said it had submitted a “positive” response that opened a “wide pathway” for agreement on the US-backed three-stage truce plan, prompting Israel to say it was tantamount to a rejection of the deal on the table.

Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza
Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza - Adel Hana/AP

A speech by Joe Biden almost two weeks ago outlined the broad proposal which would involve an initial six-week ceasefire, with Hamas releasing some hostages in exchange for Israel releasing an as yet undetermined number of Palestinian prisoners.

Phase one would then evolve into a permanent end to hostilities and the release of all hostages, before the final stage which would involve a major reconstruction effort in the devastated Gaza Strip.

It has been widely accepted that the transition between the first phase on to the path towards a permanent ceasefire would be a delicate manoeuvre where talks could become unhinged.

Mr Biden introduced the plan, which was approved by the United Nations on Monday, as an Israeli initiative, although the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, which has far-Right members, has not publicly endorsed it.

Mr Blinken, who was in Jerusalem on Monday during a diplomatic tour of the Middle East to drum up support for a peace deal, reiterated on Wednesday that Israel had backed it.

“Look, Israel accepted the proposal, Hamas didn’t ... if Hamas continues to say no then it will be clear that they have made a choice to continue the war that they started,” he told reporters in Doha, Qatar.

“A deal was on the table that was virtually identical to one that Hamas put forward on 6 May ... Hamas could have answered with a single word: ‘Yes’,” he said.

“Instead, Hamas waited nearly two weeks and then proposed more changes, a number of which go beyond positions that it had previously taken and accepted.”

“As a result, the war will go on,” he said, before adding that he would do everything he can to get a deal done.

Mr Blinken argued that the divide between the two sides could be overcome. He did not elaborate on the Hamas proposals that have been deemed unacceptable.

An official with knowledge of the talks told the Washington Post that Hamas’s amendments had included a “timeline for a permanent ceasefire and the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip.”

Two Egyptian security sources told Reuters that Hamas wanted written guarantees from the US for a permanent ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal and had concerns that the current proposal did not provide explicit guarantees over the transition of the first to the second phase.

There have been reports of a split between the group’s political leadership and its more hardline Gaza-based military leadership under Mr Sinwar. Secret messages from Mr Sinwar to his negotiators suggested he was using the mounting Palestinian death toll to his advantage.

“We have the Israelis right where we want them,” Mr Sinwar said in one of dozens of messages to ceasefire negotiators obtained by The Wall Street Journal.

Earlier this week, Mr Blinken said the onus to accept the peace plan was on “one guy” hiding “10 storeys underground in Gaza” to make the casting vote.

The spiralling death toll in Gaza and growing public anger in Israel over the government’s handling of the war are adding to pressure on both sides to reach a deal.

On Wednesday, a United Nations commission investigating the Oct 7 attacks on Israel and the ensuing conflict in Gaza accused both Palestinian armed groups and Israel of committing war crimes.

A panel led by Navi Pillay, the former UN human rights chief, found that Israel’s conduct during the war included crimes against humanity.

The report does not carry any penalties but provides a legal analysis that could feed into future action by the International Court of Justice.

Advertisement