Israel accepts Biden’s Gaza plan despite reservations, Netanyahu aide says

JERUSALEM — An aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed on Sunday that Israel has accepted a framework deal proposed by U.S. President Joe Biden to de-escalate the Gaza conflict, despite describing it as flawed and requiring significant adjustments.

In an interview with Britain’s Sunday Times, Ophir Falk, Netanyahu’s chief foreign policy advisor, said Biden’s proposal is “a deal we agreed to — it’s not a good deal but we dearly want the hostages released, all of them.”

Falk emphasized that while Israel’s acceptance of the framework is a step forward, numerous details need to be addressed.

He reiterated Israel’s conditions for any truce, including “the release of the hostages and the destruction of Hamas as a genocidal terrorist organization.”

President Biden, who initially expressed unwavering support for Israel’s offensive, has since criticized the high civilian death toll. On Friday, he outlined a three-phase plan submitted by the Netanyahu government to end the conflict. The first phase involves a truce and the return of some hostages held by Hamas, followed by negotiations for an open-ended cessation of hostilities and the release of remaining captives.

This sequencing suggests that Hamas would continue to play a role in ongoing negotiations mediated by Egypt and Qatar, potentially clashing with Israel’s objective to eradicate the Iranian-backed Islamist group.

Biden has previously endorsed several ceasefire proposals, all of which have collapsed. In February, he announced that Israel had agreed to halt fighting by Ramadan, which began on March 10, but no such truce materialized. The primary obstacle has been Israel’s stance that it will only discuss temporary pauses in fighting until Hamas is destroyed. Hamas insists on a path to a permanent end to the war in exchange for freeing hostages.

In his speech, Biden stated that his latest proposal aims to create a better future in Gaza without Hamas in power but acknowledged that “there are a number of details to negotiate to move from phase one to phase two.”

Falk reiterated Netanyahu’s position that “there will not be a permanent ceasefire until all our objectives are met.”

Netanyahu faces pressure to maintain his coalition government. Two far-right partners have threatened to withdraw if any deal spares Hamas, while a centrist partner, ex-general Benny Gantz, supports considering the deal.

Hamas has provisionally welcomed the Biden initiative. “Biden’s speech included positive ideas, but we want this to materialize within the framework of a comprehensive agreement that meets our demands,” senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told Al Jazeera on Saturday. Hamas demands an end to the Gaza offensive, withdrawal of all invading forces, free movement for Palestinians, and reconstruction aid.

Israeli officials have rejected these terms, viewing them as a return to the pre-October 7 status quo. Hamas fighters initiated the conflict by crossing the border into Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking over 250 hostages, according to Israeli figures.

The subsequent Israeli assault has devastated much of Gaza, with over 36,000 Palestinians killed, according to Gaza medical officials. Israel reports that 290 of its troops have died in the fighting.