Egypt floats ambitious plan to end Gaza war and create transitional Palestinian government

Egypt floats ambitious plan to end Gaza war and create transitional Palestinian government
Egypt has put forward an initial proposal to end the Gaza war with a ceasefire, a phased hostage release and the creation of a Palestinian government.
5 min read
25 December, 2023
Almost all of the Gaza Strip's 2.3 million people have been displaced by Israel's bombardment [Getty]

Egypt has put forward an ambitious initial proposal to end the Gaza war with a ceasefire, a phased hostage release and the creation of a Palestinian government of experts who would administer the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank, a senior Egyptian official and a European diplomat said Monday.

The proposal, worked out with the Gulf nation of Qatar, has been presented to Israel, Hamas, the United States and European governments, but still appeared preliminary. It falls short of Israel’s professed goal of outright crushing Hamas and would appear not to meet Israel’s insistence on keeping military control over Gaza for an extended period after the war.

There were reports on Monday also that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had rejected the proposal.

Israel’s War Cabinet, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will meet later Monday discuss the hostage situation, among other topics, an Israeli official said, but would not say if they would discuss the Egyptian proposal. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media.

Word of the proposal comes after three bloody days across Gaza before Christmas Day in which Israeli airstrikes killed dozens of Palestinians at a time in the north, center and south of the territory.

Israel's indiscriminate war has devastated large parts of Gaza, killed more than 20,400 Palestinians - most of them women and children - and displaced almost all of the territory’s 2.3 million people.

17 Israeli troops have also been killed in the last three days.

The mounting death toll among Israeli troops — 156 since the ground offensive began — could erode public support for the war, which erupted on October 7 when Hamas fighters carried out a surprise attack in southern Israel, killing an estimated 1,139 people and taking over 200 others captive, some of whom were released in a week-long truce.

Israelis still largely stand behind the country’s stated goals of crushing Hamas' governing and military capabilities and releasing the remaining 129 captives. That’s despite rising international pressure against Israel’s offensive, and the soaring death toll and unprecedented suffering among Palestinians.


Egyptian Proposal

The Egyptian proposal was an ambitious bid not only to end the war but also to lay out a plan for the day after.

It calls for an initial ceasefire of up to two weeks during which Palestinian groups, including Hamas, would free 40 to 50 hostages, among them women, the sick and the elderly, in return for the release of 120-150 Palestinians from Israeli prisons, the Egyptian official said.

He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing talks.

At the same time, negotiations would continue on extending the ceasefire and the release of more hostages and bodies held by Palestinian groups, he said.

Egypt and Qatar would also work with all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to agree on the establishment of a government of experts, he said. The government would rule Gaza and the West Bank for a transitional period as Palestinian factions settle their disputes and agree on a road map to hold presidential and parliamentary elections, he added.

In the meantime, Israel and Hamas would continue to negotiate a comprehensive "all-for-all" deal, he said. This would include the release of all remaining hostages in return for all Palestinian prisoners in Israel, as well as the Israeli military’s withdrawal from Gaza and the Palestinian groups' halting of rocket attacks into Israel.

Close to 8,000 Palestinians are held by Israel, many of them in "administrative detention" without trial, according to Palestinian figures.

Egyptian officials discussed the outline of the proposal with Ismail Haniyeh, the Qatar-based political leader of Hamas, who visited Cairo last week.

They plan to discuss it with the leader of the Islamic Jihad group, Ziyad al-Nakhalah, who arrived in Cairo on Sunday, the official said. The group, which also took part in the October 7 attack in southern Israel, said it was prepared to consider releasing hostages only after fighting ends.

A Western diplomat said they are aware of Egypt’s proposal. But the diplomat, who demanded anonymity to discuss the matter, doubts that Netanyahu and his far-right government would accept the entire proposal. The diplomat gave no further details.


Inside Gaza

Israel’s offensive has been one of the most devastating military campaigns in recent history. More than two-thirds of the more than 20,400 Palestinians killed have been women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry.

Israeli strikes continue to take a heavy toll every day. At a hospital in the central city of Deir al-Balah, frantic Palestinians carried in the dead, including a baby, and wounded from a strike Sunday on the Al-Maghazi refugee camp east of Deir al-Balah. One bloodied young girl looked stunned while her body was checked for broken bones.

Seventy people were killed in the strike, including women and children, according to hospital records.

"We were all targeted," said Ahmad Turkomani, who lost several family members including his daughter and grandson. "There is no safe place in Gaza anyway."

Hospital records show that the bodies of an additional 80 people killed in strikes across central Gaza were also received at the hospital from Sunday to Monday.

In northern Gaza, Palestinians reported heavy Israeli bombardment and gunfire in the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya, an area Israel had claimed to control. The Israeli military claims to have completed the dismantling of Hamas' underground headquarters in northern Gaza.

Israel faces international criticism for the civilian death toll, and there have been growing calls for Israeli leaders to be put on trial for genocide in Gaza. Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas militants, without presenting evidence.

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Israel also faces allegations of mistreating Palestinian men and teenage boys detained in homes, shelters, hospitals and elsewhere during the offensive. The military says it had detained hundreds of Palestinians, including more than 700 who were transferred to Israel for further interrogation.

Speaking from a hospital bed in Rafah after his release, Khamis al-Burdainy of Gaza City said Israeli forces detained him after tanks and bulldozers partly destroyed his home. He said men were handcuffed and blindfolded.

"We didn’t sleep. We didn’t get food and water," he said, crying and covering his face.