Skip to main content

Blinken meets Netanyahu, pressures Hamas to agree to cease-fire deal

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the rounds of senior Israeli officials on Wednesday after stops in Amman and Riyadh.
Blinken Bibi

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday, underscoring US opposition to an Israeli assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Blinken "reiterated the United States' clear position on Rafah," said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. He added that Blinken said there was improvement in the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, but stressed that this shift must be increased further. 

High-stakes meetings

Blinken and Netanyahu first met privately and then took part in a larger meeting that included both country's ambassadors, Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Barbara Leaf. After Blinken's meeting with Netanyahu, he sat down with Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid.

"Netanyahu has no political excuse not to go through with a deal to return the hostages. He has a majority in the people, he has a majority in the Knesset, and if necessary, I will make sure he has a majority in the government. We must bring them home. Every hour is critical," Lapid told Blinken, the Israeli politician wrote on the X platform.

Blinken arrived in Israel Tuesday night for a series of high-stakes meetings with Israeli leaders aimed at advancing the Egyptian-mediated proposal for a hostage-release and cease-fire deal on the Gaza war. The Biden administration wants Israel to postpone or renounce its planned military operation in the southern city of Rafah, near the border in Egypt, where more than 1 million displaced Palestinians from central and  northern Gaza have taken refuge. 

The administration is also pressuring Israel to expand the entry of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv after stops in Amman and Riyadh, on his seventh trip to the region since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel. The attack killed nearly 1,200 people, and 240 Israelis were abducted and taken into Gaza by militants. Israel's ensuing war in the Gaza Strip has killed more than 34,535 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza. 

Egypt cease-fire proposal

The Egyptian-mediated cease-fire proposal includes several concessions by Israel. According to the New York Times, it calls for the release of 33 hostages and a truce of between 30 and 40 days. Under it, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are expected to be released from Israeli jails, and Israel would allow displaced Palestinians to return to northern Gaza and hand control over parts of the east-west Nezarim corridor, cutting Gaza in two, to Egyptian authorities. According to the newspaper, as part of a second phase, Israel also agreed to discuss measures for long-term quiet. This vague formulation would enable Israel to avoid officially declaring the end of the war and Hamas to loosen its demand of completely ending the fighting. 

The pro-Hezbollah Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar published a draft of the proposal presented to Hamas Wednesday. According to Al-Akhbar, the deal includes three phases. In the first 40-day phase, the Israeli military will withdraw from Gaza's urban centers and redeploy east of the north-south Salah al-Din axis. Thirty-three Israeli hostages will be released gradually in exchange for the gradual release of Palestinian prisoners. Palestinians will be allowed to start returning to the north after three weeks.

The second phase will see discussions for long-term quiet and the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Strip. This will be the phase in which Israeli soldiers are released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and Gaza's rehabilitation will begin. The third phase will involve the return of bodies on both sides. 

Hamas representatives received the proposal in Cairo Monday and are expected to produce a written response Wednesday evening. But while Israel agreed to the new outline, Netanyahu pledged on Tuesday to follow through on plans for the military to enter Rafah and eliminate Hamas forces there. 

Meeting at his office in Jerusalem with the hawkish Gvura and Tikva forums, organizations that represent relatives of soldiers killed in Gaza and families of hostages held by Hamas, respectively, Netanyahu said, “We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there — whether or not there is a deal — in order to achieve total victory.”  The prime minister has long vowed to invade Rafah despite pushback from many in the international community, including Washington, saying such an operation would result in a humanitarian disaster. 

Meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog Wednesday morning, Blinken called on Hamas to accept the proposed deal. “We’re determined to get a cease-fire that brings the hostages home, and to get it now,” said Blinken, adding that the “only reason that wouldn’t be achieved is because of Hamas.” He noted, “We also have to be focused on the people in Gaza who are suffering,” saying efforts should be concentrated on “getting them the assistance they need — the food, the water, the medicine, the shelter.”

Meeting hostage families

After he met with Herzog, Blinken met at his hotel in Tel Aviv with family members of Israeli-Americans held captive in Gaza while dozens of other relatives of hostages demonstrated outside the hotel. Afterwards, the secretary of state went out to meet them and was greeted by calls of, "Thank you, Blinken," expressing gratitude for Washington’s efforts in securing a deal for the release of the abductees. 

Addressing those gathered outside his hotel, Blinken said, "Bringing your loved ones home is at the heart of everything we are trying to do. And we will not rest until everyone — men, women, soldiers, civilians, young, old — will be back home. There is a very strong proposal on the table right now. Hamas needs to say yes, and needs to get this done."

Since Oct. 7, the administration has been in constant contact with the Israeli-American families, a gesture much appreciated by the Israeli public. Last week, President Joe Biden received in the Oval Office 4-year-old Israeli-American Abigail Edan, who was held hostage in Gaza for several weeks at the start of the war. Both her parents were killed on Oct. 7. 

The planned meeting between Blinken and Gantz set for Wednesday afternoon at kibbutz Yad Mordechai was canceled over scheduling problems. They two spoke on the phone instead, reported Ynet.

Also on Wednesday afternoon, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Blinken toured Kibbutz Nir Oz, one of the kibbutzim hardest hit during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. After that, they visited the Kerem Shalom crossing on the Gaza border, where Gallant said, "We are determined to take any action needed in order to bring our hostages back home. This is morally correct, and this is the declared war objective." Gallant added, "The IDF is prepared to carry out any operational mission in the Rafah area."

Blinken will also visit the port of Ashdod, which the Biden administration sees as a key component in expanding humanitarian aid to Gaza. Israel has started facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid via the port, but the Biden administration would like to see the transfer of goods there increased considerably.

This developing story has been updated since initial publication.