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Former Israeli Peace Negotiator Says Netanyahu Is Working Hard to Prevent a Deal

Daniel Levy says Netanyahu’s hostility to compromise and Biden’s continued support stand in the way of a ceasefire.

Former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy discusses ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas, the ruling party in the Gaza Strip, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s continued hostility to compromise and the Biden administration’s ineffectual mediation. Contrary to its claims of brokering peace, the U.S. “will continue to send the weapons” Israel uses to devastate Gaza, unremittingly fueling an increasingly unpopular war, says Levy, who is now president of the U.S./Middle East Project.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The Washington Post is reporting Israel and Hamas have agreed to the framework for a new ceasefire and hostage deal following talks in Cairo and Doha. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reports a senior U.S. official told him that the parties are now, quote, “negotiating details of how it will be implemented.”

But a final deal may not be imminent. This comes as Israel intensifies its attacks on Gaza while ordering all civilians in Gaza City to leave the city despite having no safe place to go. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem decried the evacuation order of the city as, quote, “absolute madness.”

AMY GOODMAN: On the diplomatic front, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports Israel negotiators have returned from Doha for consultations with Israeli leaders. In Doha, the Israeli negotiators met with Egyptian, Qatari and U.S. officials. On the U.S. side, it was CIA Director William Burns. On the Israeli side, it was the head of Mossad, David Barnea.

We’re joined now by Daniel Levy, president of the U.S./Middle East Project, former Israeli peace negotiator, joining us from London.

Thanks so much for being with us again. Can you explain what’s at stake? What is this three-stage deal, Daniel?

DANIEL LEVY: Yes, indeed. Good to be with you.

So, the idea is that in the initial phase, there would be the withdrawal of the troops from large parts of Gaza, the Israeli military. You would have the release of those Israelis being held who are still alive and are not male soldiers. You would allow the real ramping up of humanitarian access — of course, that should happen anyway. And you would have Palestinian prisoners being released. And then you would move on to a second phase, where there would be a more significant Palestinian prisoner release, a full Israeli military withdrawal. The remaining soldiers would be released. And a third phase, in which bodies would be returned, and there would be the start of more consummate rehabilitation efforts.

But those are supposed to flow one to two to three. The big question — and it’s been the question for months — is whether you can just do phase one and then continue with the destruction, with everything you’ve been reporting on for months now, 21,000 children unaccounted for, 38,000 dead in Gaza and counting, and that’s without knowing what’s under the rubble. Does that continue? Or are there serious commitments that this will be a permanent cessation of this kind of hostility?

And here’s the rub. The document is trying to create a degree of constructive ambiguity, I think. And Hamas have said, “Look, we know there’s nothing ironclad” — I’m paraphrasing, OK? “We know there’s nothing ironclad, but we need to know, with maximum plausibility, that there is a commitment to this being a permanent cessation.” And what you have, on every occasion, is the Israeli prime minister stepping forward and saying, “Whoa! No, I am committing to continuing the war until its objectives are realized.” Those objectives are unrealizable. The military knows that. The families of the hostages know that. And therefore, he is trying to do everything to prevent a deal. And what we are seeing in the reportage is, unfortunately, still a lot of unsubstantiated optimism and, from the U.S. administration, continued deception.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Daniel, if you could talk about — I mean, there was renewed hope that a deal could be reached, after Hamas last week reportedly gave up on its initial demand that a permanent ceasefire be part of the first phase of any agreement. If you could talk about the significance of Hamas doing that, why you think that they took that step? And the fact that there’s such, I mean, increasing opposition within Israel to Netanyahu’s stance, not just from hostage families, but this latest move that he made, saying, you know, that Israel — one of the conditions should be that Israel can resume fighting until conditions are met, that people were so widely critical within Israel of Netanyahu taking that position, do you think that might make any difference in the short term?

DANIEL LEVY: OK. So, on the Hamas side of things, I think there has been a deliberate misinterpretation of the Hamas position. The permanent ceasefire was never locked into phase one. It was always part of the transition from phase one to phase two. And there has constantly been this question of how to make that as reasonable, as likely as possible. Now, Hamas may be looking at this — I’m not privy to their internal conversations, of course. Hamas may be looking at this and saying, “We’re still here. We will be here if the Israelis resume their actions after a six-week hiatus.” We now have a situation where in order to dial down the escalation on the northern Israel-Lebanon, Israel-Hezbollah front, you very clearly need a situation to be dialed down. Maybe we can get the kind of humanitarian relief in. But all of these things will make it increasingly difficult for Israel, even if that’s what they intend, to resume these kinds of actions after six weeks, and we have a more desperate administration in the U.S. That might suggest where some additional wiggle room has been created. However, that wiggle room, I don’t think, can be sufficient enough to sustain what you mentioned in the second part of your question, which is to sustain a very vocal, very transparent and insistent Israeli forcing the issue that, no, there can be no permanent ceasefire. Netanyahu put out four conditions. One of them was any deal will allow Israel to resume fighting until all of the objectives of the war have been achieved. So, that doesn’t give you an ability to work.

Now, what about what’s going on inside Israel, your question regarding is the pressure now at a place where Netanyahu simply has to accept this? The unfortunate answer — and I so hope I’m wrong on all of this — the unfortunate answer is no. You do have greater protest. You do have the families more mobilized. You do have a military that is more clearly saying — again, I’m paraphrasing — “If we want a chance to deal with the situation in the north, whether deescalating or having the attention span to deal militarily, then you need a ceasefire in Gaza.” The military, by the way, prefers a deal. They prefer a ceasefire deal in Gaza because they know that’s the only way they’ll get a significant cohort of the hostages out. And they know that their reservists, their troops have been on the frontline for an awfully long time and are rather exhausted. So, the military, more transparently, has said that.

You do have the parliament going into a summer recess. And so, the hope, I think, was that Netanyahu could tell his right-wing — even more extreme than himself — coalition allies, “Guys, don’t leave me during the summer recess. There’s no urgency here. I promise you that by the time the parliament is back up to the Jewish holidays in October, I’ll be killing Palestinians just like I’ve done and just like you like me to do. We’ll be fighting a war in Gaza. In the meantime, you can have fun in the West Bank, causing provocation, causing mayhem, displacing Palestinians. Don’t rush to do anything crazy.” And they will say, “No, we’re going to bring you down.”

And Netanyahu is looking around, and he sees that the domestic pressure inside Israel is not a threat to his current viewed stability. And, crucially, he is seeing that the U.S. administration will continue, when push comes to shove, to say, “Ah, it’s Hamas’s fault,” and they will continue to send the weapons without which Israel could not be causing this death and destruction, the 500-pound bombs released again. And he knows he has a nice little date with Congress following the invitation by the Republican and Democratic congressional leadership on the 24th of July.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel, let’s talk about July 24th. Yes, Netanyahu is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress on July 24th. A number of prominent Israelis, including a former head of Mossad, a former prime minister and a Nobel Prize winner have written a joint op-ed in The New York Times headlined “We Are Israelis Calling on Congress to Disinvite Netanyahu.” They argue the invitation will make a ceasefire agreement more unlikely. They write, “Netanyahu’s supporters in Israel will be emboldened by his appearance in Congress to insist that the war continue, which will further distance any deal to secure the release of the hostages, including several U.S. citizens. Giving Mr. Netanyahu the stage in Washington will all but dismiss the rage and pain of his people, as expressed in the demonstrations throughout the country. American lawmakers should not let that happen. They should ask Mr. Netanyahu to stay home.” Your response to this?

DANIEL LEVY: I don’t like giving one-word responses, but it would be “amen.” So, if you’re looking at it from the Israeli perspective, then, absolutely, the way that the congressional leadership — but, I would argue, the way the administration — has behaved has cut off at the knees any prospect of the shift in Israel that’s necessary to end this war, that has led to the ICC and the ICJ, those international courts, taking those measures.

By the way, if I was looking at this from the perspective of international law in general, and the perspective of the Palestinians living under these conditions, I would say, “How the hell can you invite Netanyahu?”

But let me just say this, because you referenced that piece by Ignatius in The Washington Post, and here’s what most concerns me this morning. Ignatius is not writing as his own opinion here. He’s a consummate insider. He is being a faithful stenographer of the spin being given to him by the administration. And Ignatius writes the following, that “it would be a ringing validation of President Biden’s patient diplomacy” and “a potential valedictory moment,” if he got this ceasefire. Now, just pause. What the spin that the administration is telling us is, “Wow! We could get it through our patient diplomacy.” Can I translate the term “patient diplomacy”? “Patient diplomacy” means that after nine months, you have tens of thousands who are dead, nine out of 10 people who are displaced, starvation, humanitarian catastrophe, scholasticide. This is patient diplomacy that you should be proud of? The hostages are still there. America’s international reputation, that which was still remaining, as an upholder of international law has been thoroughly taken to the cleaners.

And, of course, there’s the internal situation on the Democrat side. And I would simply say, because I listened to your earlier segment, that you have a real problem if you think you can sell this spin. And if you treat your voters with contempt, you do that at your own risk. And sitting here in the U.K. — and I’ve just come back from Paris — I’ll tell you what happened in our elections here. In our elections here, Labour won a stunning majority in Parliament, but lost and only received 34% in the popular vote, 6% less than Corbyn in 2017. Why? Because voters deserted Labour over Gaza. And then, in France, you saw a new left alliance come together, close the enthusiasm gap with the right. Yes, it was about keeping the extreme right out, but it was also because one of the things that new left alliance did was to come up with a credible position on Gaza. And I would simply ask the question: Is this stunning validation of your approach what you’re going to be selling people? And you still haven’t got the ceasefire. You’re still sending the weapons. You are still in violation of international law.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Finally, Daniel, I wanted to ask you about the position of the Israeli military, which are becoming, as you’ve pointed out, more and more public in their opposition to the war. What is the significance of that? And could that make a difference?

DANIEL LEVY: Wow, it’s a big issue. So, what’s going on here is the military knows they have no political plan. They’re being sent on a mission that is unachievable. They have actually openly said you cannot defeat Hamas in the way Netanyahu talks about. This deradicalization agenda in Gaza, it’s for the birds. So I think what the military are saying is, “We need a different approach.”

The problem here, in addition to, of course, what the military has been conducting in Gaza, is that these are the same guys in the military who were in charge on October 7th. And there is a fight. There is a blame game between the military leadership and Netanyahu. Was it political —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds, Daniel.

DANIEL LEVY: Was it political failure, or was it military failure? You have blame games when there is a failure. That’s what it is. And Netanyahu may replace some of this military, and that could be even more dangerous.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Levy, we want to thank you for being with us, president of the U.S./Middle East Project, former Israeli peace negotiator under Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! will be broadcasting live from the Milwaukee Republican convention and the Chicago Democratic convention, expanding to two hours every day.

And we have a development director position opening to lead our fundraising efforts. You can check it out at I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.

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