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The fate of the latest cease-fire proposal hinges on Netanyahu and Hamas’ leader in Gaza

Tia Goldenberg
Associated Press

Tel Aviv, Israel — The fate of the proposed cease-fire deal for Gaza hinges in many ways on two men: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.

Each leader faces significant political and personal pressures that may be influencing their decision-making. And neither seems to be in a rush to make concessions to end the devastating eight-month-long war and free hostages taken by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack.

Hamas has accepted the broad outline of the plan but requested “amendments.” Netanyahu has publicly disputed aspects of it, even though the U.S. has framed it as an Israeli plan.

Among the major sticking points is how to move from an initial temporary truce in the deal’s first phase to a permanent cease-fire that includes an end to the fighting and full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

Here is a look at what may be driving the two leaders:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Dec. 24, 2023.

Netanyahu is 'buying time'

Throughout the war, the long-serving Israeli leader has been criticized for letting political considerations get in the way of his decision-making.

His government is buoyed by two ultranationalist parties that oppose cease-fire deals. Instead, they prefer continuous military pressure to try to defeat Hamas and free the hostages. They also talk about “encouraging” Palestinians to leave and reestablishing Israeli settlements, which were dismantled when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation.

Netanyahu himself has taken a tough line on the cease-fire, saying he will not end the war until Hamas' military and governing capabilities are destroyed.

But with his hard-line partners pledging to topple the government if a cease-fire is struck, Netanyahu has been pushed even farther into the corner. His reliance on them to remain in power recently intensified after a centrist member of his war Cabinet, former military chief Benny Gantz, quit over frustrations with Netanyahu's handling of the conflict.

Netanyahu has had to balance internal pressures against demands from the Biden administration, which is promoting the latest cease-fire proposal, and from families of hostages who believe only a deal can set their loved ones free. Tens of thousands of Israelis have joined mass protests in support of the hostage families.

People protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, June 15, 2024.

Netanyahu appears to be siding with his far-right governing partners for the moment, knowing they hold the key to his immediate political survival, although he says he has the country's best interests in mind.

Their departure from the government could lead to new elections, which would open him up to a vote that could end his rule and likely the start of investigations into the failures of Oct. 7.

Netanyahu is also on trial for corruption, proceedings that have continued throughout the war yet have faded from the public consciousness. A cease-fire deal could refocus attention on the charges, which have dogged the Israeli leader for years and which he adamantly denies.

Netanyahu's political fortunes appear to have improved over the course of the war. His public support plummeted in the aftermath of Hamas' surprise attack on southern Israel. But over time it has gradually ticked up. While he would still face a tough path toward reelection, he isn't a write-off.

“He runs the war as he wants, which means very slowly. He’s buying time,” said Gideon Rahat, a senior fellow at the Israeli Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think thank, and chairman of the political science department at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

Rahat said Netanyahu is also keen to push on with the war in the hopes that former U.S. President Donald Trump returns to office, possibly giving Israel more leeway in its fight against Hamas.

“I don’t see any cease-fire that really comes close to being something he adopts,” Rahat said. “But he’s not the only one that controls reality.”

Sinwar's mission is to survive

Hamas' leader in Gaza also appears to be in no rush to sign on to a deal.

The militant group's exiled leadership is somewhat varied in its opinion on how to approach a cease-fire agreement. But Sinwar — the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attacks — has particular weight on the matter.

Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, chairs a meeting with leaders of Palestinian factions at his office in Gaza City, Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

As a Hamas stalwart who spent decades in Israeli prisons, he has incentives to keep the war going.

On a personal level, his life may be on the line. Israel vowed to kill him in response to the October assault, and Sinwar is believed to be hiding deep within Gaza's underground tunnels surrounded by Israeli hostages.

If a cease-fire takes hold, Sinwar will be taking a great risk stepping out in public.

“I think he understands that he’s kind of a dead man walking. But it’s a matter of how long can he hold out?” said Khaled el-Gindy, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute think tank.

But Sinwar is motivated by more than just his own personal fate. Steeped in Hamas' radical ideology, Sinwar seeks Israel's destruction and has made political gains by watching the war harm Israel's international standing and boost support for the Palestinian cause.

Israel has faced surging international criticism — from its Western allies, from the international justice system, from protesters around the world — over its conduct during the war. That has deepened Israel's global isolation, brought accusations that it is committing genocide against Palestinians and driven the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court to seek the arrests of Israeli leaders.

Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, wrote on the social platform X that Sinwar was also “counting on the sustained global outcry due to the horrendous killing of Gazans to force Israel to stop the war eventually,” on his own terms.

Palestinian children wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are treated in al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah, Sunday, June 9, 2024.

But Sinwar could face some difficult questions of his own when the war ends — not only over his personal role in the atrocities of Oct. 7 but also from the Palestinian public as the full extent of the wartime devastation and the years-long process of reconstruction sink in.

El-Gindy said Sinwar wasn't deterred by the high price Palestinian civilians in Gaza are paying in the war, seeing it as an unavoidable sacrifice on the road toward liberation.

From Sinwar’s perspective, continuing to fight Israel’s powerful army, even if only through pockets of resistance, denies Israel a victory, el-Gindy said.

“Their whole mission is to survive,” he said. “If they survive, they win.”

Associated Press writers Julia Frankel and Jack Jeffery contributed from Jerusalem.