U.S. officials briefed on the latest mediation talks told The New York Times on Saturday that American negotiators are nearing a deal that would result in a two-month truce to release the remaining captives.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will not retract his comments on Qatar’s mediation role between Israel and Hamas on Saturday, despite being under increased domestic pressure to reach a deal for another captive release.
Israeli media had reported leaked recordings from a meeting between Netanyahu and the families of captives in Tel Aviv last week, where he accused Qatar’s mediation between Hamas and Israel of being “problematic”.
Netanyahu had also accused Qatar of “funding Hamas” – a claim that the Gulf country has repeatedly denied.
The inflammatory comments angered the Gulf mediator and the United States, which defended the former’s position as “an integral” regional partner.
In his first comments on the leaked recordings, Netanyahu told a televised briefing in Tel Aviv that he still stood by his statement, saying Qatar should pressure Hamas to release the remaining 132 captives.
“Qatar hosts the leaders of Hamas. It also funds Hamas. It has leverage over Hamas,” Netanyahu said, insisting that he does not “take back a single word”.
“So they should be so good as to apply their pressure. They positioned themselves as mediators – so please go right ahead, let them be so good as to bring back our hostages,” he added.
While Qatar has yet to comment on Netanyahu’s latest statement, it previously said it was “appalled” by the leaked remarks.
Responding to the reports on Wednesday, Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Majed Al Ansari, described the leaked recordings as “irresponsible and destructive” to current mediation efforts.
“We are appalled by the alleged remarks attributed to the Israeli Prime Minister in various media reports about Qatar’s mediation role. These remarks, if validated, are irresponsible and destructive to the efforts to save innocent lives, but are not surprising,” Al Ansari, said on X.
The remarks came despite Qatar’s pivotal mediation efforts to release Israeli and foreign captives from Hamas in Gaza since their capture during the surprise attack of October 7, 2023 – which Israel has long used to justify its genocidal war.
Qatar’s successful mediation last year, alongside Egypt, resulted in a temporary truce that lasted between November 24 and December 1.
The pause saw the release of at least 110 Israeli and foreign captives from Gaza as well as 240 Palestinian women and children from Israeli prisons.
While the talks have since appeared to stall under the non-stop Israeli attacks and ground invasion of Gaza, where Israel has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, Al Ansari noted that “Qatar has been engaged in regular dialogue with the negotiating parties including Israeli institutions.”
The U.S. had also defended Qatar’s mediation role between Hamas and Israel on Thursday.
When asked during a press briefing in Washington on the recordings’ possible impact on Qatar’s current mediation, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel underlined Doha’s role as an “integral” regional partner.
“I don’t have any assessment to offer on those comments or some of the audio that’s been circulating. What I can just say – and I spoke a little bit about this yesterday – is that Qatar has been an integral, irreplaceable, key regional partner, not just as it relates to this current ongoing conflict, but other priorities that the United States has had in the region,” Patel said in a press conference.
Notably, Hamas opened its political office in Qatar in 2012 following Washington’s request to establish a channel of communication with the group, a move that has since allowed Doha to successfully mediate between the conflicting parties on several occasions to achieve crucially needed ceasefires.
Qatar – a major non-NATO U.S. ally – and France also managed to broker a deal on January 12 to allow the delivery of aid and medicines to the remaining captives and civilians in Gaza.
Netanyahu is under fire as the families of the captives have been holding almost daily protests across Tel Aviv while calling on the Israeli official to step down. On Saturday, Netanyahu lashed out at the protests, calling them “useless and contributing to the demands of Hamas”.
“Our goal is to eliminate Hamas, as we cannot allow armed forces to remain in Gaza, and the war will not end until the mission is completed,” he said, adding: “There are people among us who doubt our capabilities, but they are a minority.”
The Gulf state’s mediation is ongoing in hopes of reaching a comprehensive ceasefire in Gaza. Hamas has repeatedly placed a ceasefire as its condition to return the captives whereas Israel demanded temporary pauses.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials briefed on the latest mediation talks told The New York Times on Saturday that American negotiators are nearing a deal that would result in a two-month truce to release the remaining captives.
The report said the deal could be finalised “in the next two weeks” as negotiators drafted the agreement that merged proposals by Israel and Hamas.
The new proposal on the table is on the agenda of a meeting in Paris, where reports said negotiators from Qatar, the CIA, Egyptian intelligence and the Israeli Mossad are meeting.
However, Qatar has yet to publicly comment on the reported discussions.
Despite the apparent breakthrough, the sources told NYT that there is still a state of cautious optimism.
Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani is reportedly heading to Washington this week to meet senior members and top lawmakers, sources privy to the matter told Al-Monitor on Friday.