President Biden plans to dispatch CIA Director William J. Burns in the coming days to help broker an ambitious deal between Hamas and Israel that would involve the release of all remaining hostages held in Gaza and the longest cessation of hostilities since the war began last year, according to officials familiar with the matter.
Burns is expected to travel to Europe for the talks and meet with the Israeli and Egyptian intelligence chiefs, David Barnea and Abbas Kamel, and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations. The planned gathering has not been previously reported.
Egypt and Qatar have been key interlocutors between Israel and Hamas, the militant group whose deadly cross-border attack on Oct. 7 set off the war in Gaza. The two countries helped secure an initial pause in hostilities and hostage release in November. But tensions between the Israelis and Qataris are on a razor’s edge after leaked audio of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu captured the Israeli leader disparaging Qatar in a conversation with Israeli hostage families.
Burns’s discussions in Europe are expected to build on his phone conversations with counterparts, as well as the work of the White House’s top Middle East official, Brett McGurk, who this week has held related meetings in Qatar’s capital, Doha, and in Cairo.
Israel’s latest proposal includes a 60-day pause in fighting in exchange for the phased release of the more than 100 captives, beginning with civilian women and children and followed by civilian men, military women and men, and the remains of those who have died since their abduction. Such a pause would allow Israel to continue fighting after the two-month lull in line with Netanyahu’s vow to achieve “total victory” by destroying Hamas. [Continue reading…]