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US expects Israel to accept ceasefire deal – and it has more leverage than ever

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is under growing pressure at home and abroad to make a decision on a ceasefire deal to end the fighting in Gaza proposed by US President Joe Biden, which Hamas has signalled it is willing to accept.

The three-stage deal laid out on Friday was the latest Israeli offer, according to President Biden, but Mr Netanyahu is facing stiff resistance from ministers who have threatened to bolt the coalition government if the proposal goes through.

Samuel Ramani, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) defence and security think-tank, said the proposal has a better chance than previous deals, which have failed to advance in months of negotiations between the warring parties.

“The American leverage and pressure is at the highest it’s been so far,” Dr Ramani told i.

Israel, however, has proven to be “a bit of a maverick actor, [acting] autonomously to push the limits of American resolve as far as possible”, he added.

“I suspect the Israelis could continue to do that.”

Michael Milshtein, a former head of intelligence on Palestinian affairs for the Israel Defence Forces and head of the Palestinian Studies Forum at Tel Aviv University, said he believes the offer on the table is Mr Netanyahu’s proposal but that a glaring omission is Israel’s strategic goal or endgame for Gaza – the eradication of Hamas.

“[President Biden] spoke about Israeli victory or the Israeli strategic achievement of avoiding a repeat of the 7 October massacre, but it’s not the same thing – it means that the basic goal has changed,” Dr Milshtein told i.

He thinks this is the reason Israeli ministers are threatening to leave the government, because they “understand how serious the current version [of the deal] is”.

Dr Milshtein believes Mr Netanyahu was given the green light on Saturday to address a joint session of US Congress at an unspecified date “only after he said yes to the initiative”.

“The pressure of the Biden Administration on him [Mr Netanyahu] is dramatic,” he added.

Israel has responded with mixed messages to President Biden’s proposal. Mr Netanyahu said on Monday that there are “gaps” between the Israeli version and President Biden’s recounting of it.

“The proposal that Biden presented is incomplete,” he said, according to The Times of Israel.

“The war will stop in order to bring hostages back, and afterward we will hold discussions. There are other details that the US President did not present to the public.”

Mr Netanyahu said Israel could stop the war for six weeks, but it cannot end it permanently, Israel Hayom reported. “Iran and all of our enemies are watching to see if we capitulate,” he said, adding that much of the reporting on his position on a deal is “fake news”.

It comes after Israel’s finance minister Bezalel Smotrich and national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir, ultranationalist coalition partners, threatened to bring down the government if the ceasefire deal is adopted.

A huge demonstration in Israel on Saturday night, led by families of hostages held by Hamas, urged the government to act. The Israeli government says Hamas is holding about 85 hostages in Gaza and the remains of 39 others.

Reaction to the proposal reflects division within the Israeli government and the increasingly strained relationship between President Biden and Mr Netanyahu.

After the US President warned he would halt some shipments of American weapons to Israel if it launched a major offensive in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, the US was “blindsided” by Mr Netanyahu’s subsequent actions, said Dr Ramani.

“Israel went into Rafah and tried to call the Americans’ bluff,” he added.

Phase one of the proposed deal would last for six weeks and include a “full and complete ceasefire”, a withdrawal of Israeli forces from all densely populated areas of Gaza and the release of a number of hostages, including women, older people and the wounded, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

The second phase would include the release of all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers, and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. The third phase calls for the start of a major reconstruction of Gaza.

Hamas has provisionally welcomed the proposal, with official Osama Hamdan telling Al Jazeera: “Biden’s speech [on Friday] included positive ideas, but we want this to materialise within the framework of a comprehensive agreement that meets our demands.” He added that Hamas has not received any written documents yet.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said if Hamas agrees to President Biden’s ceasefire proposal then the US expects Israel to also accept the plan.

“This was an Israeli proposal. We have every expectation that if Hamas agrees to the proposal – as was transmitted to them, an Israeli proposal – then Israel would say yes,” he told ABC News on Sunday.

Gershon Baskin, a veteran Israeli negotiator, said the proposal gives Hamas “almost everything that they have demanded”.

“Nonetheless, we should all recognise that there are no winners in this war – only losers,” he added.

“There is not now, nor has there ever been, a military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

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