Secretary of State Antony Blinken departed the Middle East after the U.S. and Israel spiked the latest hostage deal proposed by Hamas on Thursday.
Blinken spent the better part of the past week negotiating with Israel, Egypt, Qatar and Hamas over a potential hostage release deal. The proposal sent over by Hamas late on Tuesday contained items that Israel and the U.S. deemed unrealistic, and Blinken is now departing with little progress being made.
“Clearly there are things that Hamas sent back that are absolute non-starters,” Blinken acknowledged on Wednesday. “But, at the same time, we see space to continue to pursue an agreement. And these things are always negotiations. It’s not flipping a light switch. It’s not ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ There’s invariably back and forth.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was less charitable with his words, calling the Hamas proposal “delusional” and once again vowing that the war in Gaza would continue until the terrorist organization was fully rooted out.
Hamas’ proposed 135-day plan would have seen Israeli hostages released in stages – women and children first – in exchange for 1,500 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel, including 500 Hamas would choose from a list of those serving life sentences.
Under that proposal, male hostages over the age of 19 would be released after the first 45-day phase, at which point Israeli forces would fully withdraw from Gaza.
Despite agreement on rejecting the Hamas deal, Blinken still admonished Israel for the continued loss of civilian life in Gaza, while noting that the IDF has “taken important steps” to protect civilians.
“On all of my previous visits here and pretty much every day in between, we have pressed Israel in concrete ways to strengthen civilian protection, to get more assistance to those who need it. And over the past four months, Israel has taken important steps to do just that,” Blinken said in a statement. “And yet … the daily toll that its military operations continue to take on innocent civilians remains too high.”
Blinken concluded by referencing Saudi Arabia’s openness to formalizing ties with Israel so long as Palestinians are granted a clear path to an independent state, something Netanyahu has rebuffed.
“We remain determined as well to pursue a diplomatic path to a just and lasting peace, and security for all in the region, and notably for Israel,” Blinken said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report