February 26, 2024 | Flash Brief

Hostage Talks Continue in Qatar as Israel Prepares to Fight in Rafah

February 26, 2024 | Flash Brief

Hostage Talks Continue in Qatar as Israel Prepares to Fight in Rafah

Latest Developments

Negotiations continued on February 26 for a renewed hostage-for-prisoner exchange and a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on February 25 that the parties have tentatively agreed to the “basic contours” of a deal, which could be reached “in the coming days.” On February 24, the Israeli war cabinet approved representatives to send to Qatar, where negotiations that include Washington, Cairo, and Doha are continuing. Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is determined to clear Hamas terrorists out of their last stronghold in Rafah whether or not negotiators reach a deal, though the operation could be “delayed somewhat” for the truce.

Netanyahu also announced on February 26 that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had presented the war cabinet with a plan for evacuating civilians from areas of fighting in the Gaza Strip in anticipation of ground operations in Rafah — a city located along Gaza’s border with Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians fled to Rafah as fighting between the IDF and Hamas raged in Gaza City in the north and Khan Younis in the south. Israel maintains that ground operations in Rafah are necessary to defeat Hamas.

Expert Analysis

“The Israelis are playing this exactly the way they should. They are negotiating in good faith while also preparing for a large ground maneuver in Rafah. They will be equally ready for either option. And this has been conveyed clearly to Hamas and its patron in Doha. The ball is now clearly in Hamas’s court. Either the group takes this deal and tries to buy time, or it will almost certainly meet an abrupt end at the hands of the IDF in Rafah.”Jonathan Schanzer, FDD Senior Vice President for Research

“Hamas, in coordination with Iran and Qatar, will play games in negotiations until its existential clock strikes 11:59 — pressing for gains and advantages wherever possible in case domestic or international pressure on Israel delivers a better deal. To secure an agreement on its terms, Israel must remain determined in its execution of military objectives until Hamas leaders believe the clock is about to strike midnight.” Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

Hamas Reportedly Eased ‘Delusional’ Demands

Hamas still holds approximately 130 Israelis hostage in the Gaza Strip, at least 30 of whom have been killed, according to Israeli intelligence assessments. In a previous set of talks, Netanyahu recalled the Israeli representatives to the negotiations after what he described as “crazy demands” from Hamas that called for Israel to free thousands of Palestinian prisoners — many of whom are incarcerated for committing acts of terrorism. Hamas also demanded the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent end to the war, thereby enabling the terrorist group to remain in power.

So far, few details have emerged about the most recent outline of a deal that came out of negotiations in Paris on February 23, but senior Biden administration officials claim that Hamas has scaled back its demands. According to reports, CIA Director William Burns proposed the U.S. plan, which calls for Hamas to release 40 Israeli hostages for a 40-day pause in fighting, during which the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza would increase. Israel would also release three Palestinian prisoners for every one hostage released by Hamas — totaling more than 100 Palestinian prisoners released compared to the thousands demanded by Hamas.

Qatar: Ceasefire in Gaza Should Not Depend on Hostage Deal,” FDD Flash Brief

Unless Hamas Releases Hostages, Israel to Push into Rafah During Ramadan,” FDD Flash Brief

U.S., Egyptian, Qatari, and Israeli Officials End Talks Without A Deal,” FDD Flash Brief


Arab Politics Egypt Gulf States Israel Israel at War Palestinian Politics