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After a week of negotiation, Gaza ceasefire is unlikely before Ramadan

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It has been five months since Hamas launched attacks on Israel that killed 1,200 people. Since then, Israel's response in Gaza has killed more than 30,000 people and brought about a humanitarian crisis. International calls for a cease-fire are growing, and Israel and Hamas have been in talks. But those talks are now at a standstill. A cease-fire looks pretty unlikely at this point before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins early next week. Here to talk about the latest on the negotiations is Khaled Elgindy. He's a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, where he directs the program on Palestine and Palestinian Affairs. Welcome.

KHALED ELGINDY: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So can you first just lay out - what are the essential demands each side has right now?

ELGINDY: Israel, from the outset, has resisted anything that we would call a permanent cease-fire. And as a result, what is on the table is a temporary pause in the hostilities for six weeks. And during that time, there would be a kind of phased release of the hostages that are being held in Gaza, Israeli hostages. And there would be a dramatic upscaling in humanitarian assistance entering into Gaza, which up until now Israel has been severely restricting. The holdup seems to be from Hamas's standpoint. They're looking for some assurance that we're not just pausing for six weeks and then we're going to resume the same level of Israeli bombardment that we've seen over the past five months. And Israel is reluctant to do that because they want to press ahead with an invasion of Rafah.

CHANG: But what is your sense at this point of who's court the ball is in right now? Like, Israel and the U.S. were saying Hamas is being unreasonable in these talks. But from what I understand, Israel didn't even send a delegation to Cairo for these negotiations, right?

ELGINDY: It's hard to say who's, you know, who's court the ball is in because there are reasons for both sides to be reluctant. I mean, we know that Netanyahu personally needs this war to continue for as long as possible. He does not want to see a pause, because when there is a pause, there's going to be a reckoning. And there are already calls inside Israel for him to resign. And so he's been trying to delay that reckoning for as long as possible.

CHANG: What incentive does Hamas have to agree to a cease-fire, given what we are hearing now from the Israeli government?

ELGINDY: That's part of the problem, right? They have an incentive in a permanent cease-fire or a durable one, you know, one that for all intents and purposes becomes permanent, even if they don't call it that. So that's what Hamas is interested is in. So when they hear Netanyahu talking about total victory and we're going to press ahead and Hamas must be destroyed, there's not a lot there that is going to incentivize them to agree to a temporary pause in lieu of some kind of guarantee that it would become lasting. And I think that's where the holdup is.

CHANG: What I don't understand, though, is with the negotiations obviously stalled, the U.S. continues to insist that there will be a cease-fire deal. Like, why? Why is the U.S. claiming a deal can be made even though talks are pretty paralyzed at this point?

ELGINDY: There has to be an end at some point. And this point, I think, has already been reached in the minds of most people. But also, it's a way to exert pressure. You know, when you're the United States and you say there needs to be an end to this, there has to be a cease-fire soon, that's intended to put pressure on all sides but mainly the Israeli side.

CHANG: Is rhetoric from the U.S. enough pressure or do you think the Biden administration needs to do more to exert more substantive pressure on Israel?

ELGINDY: Yeah. Rhetoric, of course, is not enough. Israel has ignored American rhetoric and demands and warnings. You know, they warned about a ground invasion. They warned about, you know, don't kill so many civilians. You have to do more to allow humanitarian assistance in. And so there's no reason to think that even louder appeals this time around are going to work. There has to be some consequences. You know, there has to be an or else, you know, slowing down the weapons pipeline if not stopping it altogether, something that will make Israelis recalculate the cost-benefit analysis of not having a cease-fire.

CHANG: Khaled Elgindy of the Middle East Institute. Thank you very much for joining us today.

ELGINDY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kai McNamee
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Patrick Jarenwattananon
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Ailsa Chang
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.