The “roadmap to a lasting ceasefire” presented by Joe Biden on Friday, May 31, has relaunched the laborious process of negotiations aimed at ending the fighting in Gaza and freeing the Israeli hostages held in the enclave. The signal for the resumption of these negotiations, which had been at a standstill since the Israeli army entered Rafah at the beginning of May, was given by the return to Doha on June 5 of William Burns, the head of the CIA.

The American president’s plan for ending the crisis, which was deemed “positive” by Hamas but more coolly received by Israel, provides for a return to calm in three phases. The first includes a six-week ceasefire, accompanied by an Israeli withdrawal from urban areas of Gaza and the release of certain hostages (women, children and the elderly), in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

The disagreement between the two belligerents mainly concerns the second phase, which is intended to put an end to hostilities, lead to the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the enclave and the return of the last hostages. The third phase concerns the reconstruction of Gaza.

Hamas is demanding guarantees that the Israeli offensive will not resume as soon as it has freed the Israeli captives. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is afraid of tying his hands. Formalizing the end of the war would expose him to attacks from the ultranationalist wing of his government, which dreams of recolonizing Palestinian territory. It is up to the three mediators in the crisis – the United States, Qatar and Egypt – to find the right terms and pass on the messages likely to satisfy the hardly compatible demands of the two warring parties. Le Monde unpacks this complex five-player game, profiling the key figures in the negotiations.

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Mossad chief David Barnea at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on May 13, 2024.

David Barnea, Israel’s master spy

In these negotiations, David Barnea, the director of the Mossad, has the difficult task of carrying the word of a deeply divided government. Alongside Major General Nitzan Alon, in charge of hostages and missing persons, and intelligence chief Ronen Bar, he is leading a team that, according to several sources close to the negotiators, is becoming less and less willing to conceal its “immense frustration.” They are faced with Hamas’ inflexibility, of course, but also, and above all, with Netanyahu. The same sources suspect the Israeli prime minister of “sabotaging” their efforts, in order to “prolong the war” and keep himself in power, while satisfying his far-right allies, who are campaigning for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza.

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