Blinken: Israel-Hamas ceasefire deal ‘very much possible’
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on March 20, 2024. Photo: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. Department of State.

‘The gaps are narrowing,’ according to the top U.S. diplomat in Israel.

By Charles Bybelezer
March 21, 2024

A potential ceasefire deal between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group is “getting closer,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday during a trip to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“I think the gaps are narrowing, and I think an agreement is very much possible. We worked very hard with Qatar, with Egypt and with Israel to put a strong proposal on the table. We did that; Hamas wouldn’t accept it. They came back with other requests, other demands,” Blinken told Christiane Baissary of the Saudi-based Al Hadath newspaper, according to a U.S. State Department transcript of the interview.

“The negotiators are working on that right now. But I believe it’s very much doable, and it’s very much necessary,” he added.

An Israeli delegation led by Mossad chief David Barnea departed for Doha on Monday afternoon for another round of talks, although Jerusalem remains pessimistic that a deal can be reached.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the latest Hamas demands “absurd,” yet still agreed to send negotiators to Qatar.

On Wednesday, Blinken also confirmed that the Biden administration was circulating a draft U.N. Security Council resolution “pressing for an immediate ceasefire tied to the release of hostages.”

Hamas captured 253 hostages during its invasion of southern Israel on Oct. 7, 134 of whom are still being held by the terror group.

A ceasefire deal “would bring immediate relief to so many people who are suffering in Gaza — the children, the women, the men. It would allow a much greater expansion of humanitarian assistance getting to them, and it could create the conditions to have a lasting, enduring ceasefire, which is also what we want to see. So that’s the urgency in this moment,” said Blinken.

He noted that the United States continues to “stand with Israel and its right to defend itself, to make sure that Oct. 7 never happens again.”

At the same time, he continued, “It’s imperative that the civilians who are in harm’s way and who are suffering so terribly — that we focus on them, that we make them a priority, protecting the civilians, getting them humanitarian assistance.

“And we’ve been leading the effort to do that, to get more [aid] in [Gaza], to get more to the people who need it. We are pressing on that as hard as we can.”

Blinken then pivoted to the U.S. administration’s opposition to an IDF operation in Rafah to root out Hamas’s last remaining battalions.

“President [Joe] Biden has been very clear that we cannot support a major ground operation, military operation, in Rafah. There are, as you know, 1.4 million or so civilians in Rafah, many of them displaced from other parts of Gaza. There’s no effective way of getting them out of the way and to safety, and even the people that would remain in Rafah would be in terrible jeopardy,” said Blinken.

“So, this is one of the things that President Biden talked to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu about. We have a team from Israel coming to the United States to look at a different way of dealing with the remaining problem of Hamas in Rafah. So that’ll happen next week,” he said.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu insisted that the IDF would enter Rafah with or without support from the United States.

“There were times we agreed with our friends, and there were times we did not agree with them,” the premier said in a pre-recorded video address to Israeli citizens. “Ultimately, we always did what was necessary for our safety, and we will do so this time as well.”

During a phone call with Netanyahu on Monday, Biden stated that he could not support a major military offensive in Rafah. Instead, the White House favors a limited operation aimed at high-value targets and securing the Gaza-Egypt border.

Netanyahu is sending two of his trusted associates, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, to Washington to discuss the pending battle.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant will make a separate trip to the United States next week, in what will be his first official visit since Oct. 7.

Blinken is slated to head to Cairo on Thursday before touching down on Friday for a brief visit to Israel, the last stop on the secretary of state’s sixth trip to the Middle East since the Hamas-led massacre of Oct. 7.

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