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Can the U.S. force a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas?

Palestinians walk among the rubble after four hostages were rescued from Gaza in an Israeli rescue operation on Saturday.
Anas Baba
Palestinians walk among the rubble after four hostages were rescued from Gaza in an Israeli rescue operation on Saturday.

Israelis rejoiced in Tel Aviv after hearing that four of the hostages abducted in the October 7th Hamas attacks had been rescued as a result of an Israeli special forces operation in Gaza. The operation killed more than 270 Palestinians and left 700 wounded, according to Gaza's health ministry.

While it was also a moment of triumph for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the largest recovery of living hostages since the war erupted eight months ago, his celebration was short-lived.

Benny Gantz, a centrist member of Israel's unity war cabinet, announced his resignation on Sunday, over Netanyahu's management of the war in Gaza. Gantz said part of his resignation was due to Netanyahu prioritizing his own political survival over the fate of the hostages in captivity.

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How this complicates a cease-fire deal.

To begin, Gantz was a moderating voice in the war cabinet.

After his resignation, Netanyahu will be even more reliant on far-right members of his coalition, who have vocally opposed efforts to broker a cease-fire.

And while Hamas has said it's open to what is outlined in a US cease-fire proposal, the large number of Palestinians killed in the hostage rescue could make it harder for Hamas to reach an agreement when all is said and done.

NPR's International correspondent Daniel Estrin, and State Department correspondent Michele Kelemen joined Consider This host Mary Louise Kelly to explain how the future of a cease-fire is still uncertain.

Estrin explained that Israel's military advances in Rafah are what made Israel willing to offer the cease-fire deal.

"[It has] only reinforced that the military cannot free all of the hostages in that kind of special ops rescue. And the only way to get all the hostages out alive, as even the military spokesman himself has said, is through a deal with Hamas."

Estrin adds that in order to reach a deal, Netanyahu would need to take the political risk necessary to embrace the cease-fire deal despite his far right political partners' staunch opposition to any deal that does not result in Hamas' destruction. But with elections coming up, and Gantz' resignation, it seems unlikely that will happen.

"As for Hamas," Estrin says, "their position remains they won't agree to a cease-fire deal with Israel until there's a guarantee that Israel really means it's going to be the end of the war."

What the U.S. is doing now.

On Saturday, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan commended Israel for rescuing hostages, but also stressed that all of the remaining hostages could be freed if a deal is reached.

"The hostage release and cease-fire deal that is now on the table would secure the release of all the remaining hostages together with security assurances for Israel and relief for the innocent civilians in Gaza," Sullivan said in a statement.

In May, President Biden laid out a three phased approach to ending the war:

  • It would start with a six week cease-fire and the release of some of the Israeli hostages.
  • Israel would also have to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. That number still has to be negotiated.
  • Then, Israel and Hamas would negotiate a permanent cease-fire, and Israel would withdraw from Gaza.

Kelemen explains that enacting that plan will take some complicated political maneuvering from U.S. officials:

"Hamas wants a guarantee of all of that now, but this is a phased approach with lots of potential pitfalls and no guarantees. So what Blinken's trying to do is to get more countries to press Hamas to agree to it."

On Monday afternoon, the U.S. also brought this plan to the U.N. Security Council and got an almost unanimous endorsement, which the U.S. says sends a clear message to Hamas to accept the deal, and for both Hamas and Israel to start implementing it. And part of that implementation might entail pressuring Israel to accept sooner, says Kelemen.

"In a way, the U.S. is trying to box Israel in. If the U.N. Security Council and much of the world now backs this plan and pressures Hamas to sign up for it, it will be harder for Netanyahu not to at least start this process," she said.

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