Relatives and supporters of Israelis held hostage by Palestinian Hamas militants
Relatives and supporters of Israelis held hostage by Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza since the October 7 attacks, demonstrate to call for their release in Tel Aviv on June 1, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

Jerusalem: Israel said on Saturday that the Gaza war would not end as long as Hamas retains power, raising questions of timing and interpretation over a truce offer that US President Joe Biden has advanced and the Palestinian militants have cautiously welcomed.

Biden said on Friday that Israel had proposed a deal involving an initial six-week ceasefire with a partial Israeli military withdrawal and the release of some hostages while "a permanent end to hostilities" is negotiated through mediators.

The proposal, Biden said, also "creates a better 'day after' in Gaza without Hamas in power". He did not elaborate on how that might be achieved. The Iranian-backed Islamist group has given no indication it might step aside or disarm voluntarily.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said on Saturday any notion that Israel would agree a permanent ceasefire before "the destruction of Hamas' military and governing capabilities" was "a non-starter".

'Ready to engage positively'

Hamas said on Friday it was ready to engage "positively and in a constructive manner". But senior official Mahmoud Mardawi said in a Qatari television interview that it had not yet received the details of the proposal.

"No agreement can be reached before the demand for the withdrawal of the occupation army and a ceasefire is met," he said. Hamas remains committed to Israel's destruction.

The talks, mediated by Egypt and Qatar with US backing, have stumbled for months over a clash in core positions. Israel has been willing only to suspend the war in exchange for hostages, saying it would then resume the campaign to eliminate the Hamas threat. Hamas wants any deal to entail concrete Israeli moves to end the war, like a full troop withdrawal.

A senior Biden administration official, asked about a potential rift in the US and Israeli viewpoints on the future of Hamas, suggested this may be open to interpretation and would come down to future Egyptian and Qatari sway over the movement.

"I have no doubt that the deal will be characterised by Israel and be characterised by Hamas," the official told reporters.

"And I think the arrangements and some of the day-after planning, you know, helps ensure that " that Hamas's military capacity to regenerate in a way that can threaten Israel would be very much foreclosed under this arrangement and, I think the president said in his speech, ensuring that Hamas cannot rearm."

Widespread support for war

In his speech on Friday, Biden called on Israel's leadership to resist pressure from those in the country who wanted the war to go on "indefinitely".

Inside Israel, anger at the October 7 attack has generated widespread support for the war in Gaza, although there is also pressure on the governing coalition to bring back the remaining hostages.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to agree a hostages and ceasefire deal, saying his party would support it even if ultranationalist factions in the governing religious-rightist coalition rebelled. Lapid's pledge meant a deal would likely pass in parliament.

"The government of Israel cannot ignore President Biden's consequential speech. There is a deal on the table and it should be made," Lapid said in a social media post on Saturday.