Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The heads of the CIA and Israel’s Mossad spy agency are expected to hold talks with senior Egyptian and Qatari officials on Tuesday in a bid to revive negotiations on a deal to halt the Israel-Hamas war and secure the release of hostages held in Gaza, said people familiar with the process.
The negotiations, likely to be held in Cairo, come a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Hamas’s demands for an agreement as “delusional” and vowed to press on for “total victory” in the war with the Palestinian militant group.
Meditators hoped that Mossad chief David Barnea’s plan to travel to Egypt was a sign that Israel was still open to discussions on a potential deal, despite Netanyahu’s rhetoric.
“The discussions have been constructive and there’s willingness to compromise,” said a diplomat briefed on the talks. “Barnea wouldn’t be going to the talks unless he had the go-ahead.”
Last week, Hamas proposed a four-and-a-half month ceasefire, during which it would release the remaining hostages in phases in return for Israel freeing 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, including 500 serving life sentences. The proposal came in response to a framework agreement brokered by mediators in January.
Hamas also demanded that Israeli forces pull back from major urban centres in Gaza during the first phase of the truce, and withdraw completely from the besieged strip in the second phase.
The talks, brokered by the US, Qatar and Egypt, have for weeks been bogged down by Israel’s rejection of Hamas’s insistence that any hostage deal should end with a permanent ceasefire.
Since launching its offensive on Gaza in response to Hamas’s devastating October 7 attack, Israel has vowed to eradicate the Palestinian militant group and retain overall security over the strip.
The diplomat said that the key sticking points were still the question of a permanent ceasefire — which mediators would also like to include at the end of any hostage deal — and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.
But the mediators are hopeful that they can secure compromises.
After Netanyahu rejected Hamas’s proposals last week, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said that while there were some “clear non-starters” put forward by the militant group, “we do think it creates space for agreement to be reached and we will work at that relentlessly until we get there”.
US President Joe Biden also told reporters last week that he was “pushing very hard” to broker a truce and the release of hostages.
“I think if we can get . . . the initial [pause in hostilities], I think that we would be able to extend that so that we can increase the prospect that this fighting in Gaza changes,” Biden said.
Barnea and CIA chief Bill Burns most recently held talks with Qatari and Egyptian officials in Paris last month, during which they agreed to the framework deal calling for a six-week pause in hostilities for a hostage-prisoner swap. But the arrangement did not guarantee a permanent ceasefire.
After Israeli forces freed two hostages in Gaza on Monday, Netanyahu said: “Only continued military pressure, until total victory, will bring about the release of all of our hostages.”
Hamas is believed to hold about 130 hostages, including the bodies of some who have died. The group killed about 1,200 people and seized 250 people during its October 7 attack.
The latest hostage talks come as international pressure mounts on Israel to end its war in Gaza, which has killed more than 28,000 people, according to Palestinian health officials.
Global concern about Israel’s offensive has intensified since Netanyahu ordered the military to prepare to evacuate civilians from Rafah, a densely populated city in the south that is packed with more than 1mn Gazans, many already displaced from their homes.
Last week, Biden called Israel’s military response in Gaza “over the top”, adding: “There are a lot of innocent people who are starving; a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it’s got to stop.”
He said a sustained pause in hostilities to free the hostages could also allow progress on talks on a broader plan to secure a sustained peace agreement, which could include the offer of Saudi Arabia normalising relations with Israel.