As Israel and Hamas negotiate a new deal for a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages, the two sides appear unmoved on some of the conditions they set from the start, making it nearly impossible to break the deadlock.

The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, reported that Israel had made significant concessions this time and said that “now is the time” for Hamas to seal the deal. For their part, Hamas leaders said they were considering the proposal in a “positive spirit.”

The balance of the two sides

Israeli leaders are weighing whether to accept a deal that would delay or prevent the announced ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, a scenario that, however, runs counter to Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledges of “total victory” and the destruction of Hamas.

Accordingly, Hamas leaders are being asked to decide whether to forfeit their biggest bargaining chip, the hostages, as the deal may secure a long-term truce but does not discount the end of the war.

The plan negotiated by Egyptian mediators is primarily aimed at preventing an Israeli assault on Rafah, which the US says will have devastating consequences for the more than one million displaced Palestinians who have taken refuge on the Egyptian border. The Egyptians have also warned Israel about the operation, fearing a huge influx of Palestinian refugees into its territory.

De-escalation in phases

The initial stage of the deal calls for a 40-day ceasefire during which Hamas must release women and civilian hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

In a later stage, Israeli troops will withdraw from a coastal road in Gaza and head inland to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid.

At the same time, this would allow displaced civilians to return to their homes in the northern Gaza Strip. Hamas will provide a list of hostages still alive. Israel estimates Hamas is holding about 100 hostages and the bodies of another 30 who were either killed in the October 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war or died in captivity.

Within the third week, both sides will begin indirect negotiations aimed at establishing a permanent calm. Three weeks after the first phase, Israeli troops must withdraw from central Gaza.

The next steps towards peace

In the second stage of the agreement, the two sides should seek to establish permanent calm in the region through the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas, both civilians and soldiers, in exchange for the release of more Palestinian prisoners.

The third and final stage involves handing over the bodies of dead hostages still in Gaza, freeing more prisoners held by Israel and launching a five-year reconstruction plan. The deal states that Hamas would agree not to rebuild its military arsenal.

The points of disagreement

Both sides want to end the war on their own terms. Hamas leaders have for months denied anything short of a full Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a permanent end to the fighting. The mediators from the Hamas side will seek clarification on these issues when they return to Cairo.

Israel wants all the hostages to return home safely, the defeat of Hamas in the field and its expulsion from Gaza so that there is no repeat of another attack like the one on October 7 that sparked the war.

Israel has declared that the invasion of Rafah is critical to achieving these goals, with Netanyahu warning that Israel will invade the city with or without a deal.

Netanyahu also faces a lot of domestic pressure. Thousands of people have joined protests calling on him to make an immediate deal on the hostages. At the same time, his cabinet hardliners have threatened to bring down the government if he ends the war.

The Biden administration, which provides Israel with vital military and diplomatic support, opposes an invasion of Rafah unless Israel provides a “credible” plan to protect civilians.

Postwar uncertainty

It is unclear whether the ceasefire proposal provides for post-war Gaza governance.

The United States has called for a plan that includes the return of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which was driven out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007 and now administers parts of the occupied West Bank.

The Biden administration is seeking the establishment of Palestinian rule in Gaza and the West Bank as a precursor to a Palestinian state. Netanyahu and his right-wing government reject the Palestinian Authority’s role in Gaza and say they will never allow a Palestinian state to be established.

Israel wants unlimited freedom of action for its army in Gaza, while the Biden administration is opposed to the return of Israeli military occupation of the Gaza Strip.

It also remains unclear who will be in charge of Gaza during the five-year reconstruction phase, what will happen to Hamas during that time, and who will pay for the reconstruction.

According to a new UN report, the damage caused by the war in Gaza is estimated at more than 18.5 billion dollars and the reconstruction of all the houses destroyed is timed by 2040. Gaza was already facing an unemployment rate of 45% before war, according to the UN Development Programme.