Netanyahu aide says Israel agreed to Biden’s cease-fire plan for Gaza

Ophir Falk, Netanyahu’s chief foreign policy adviser, said it was “a deal we agreed to — it’s not a good deal, but we dearly want the hostages released, all of them.”

An aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had agreed to the framework for President Joe Biden’s plan to bring an end to the war in Gaza, though he said it was “not a good deal.”

Biden announced Friday that Israel had proposed a three-part plan that would ultimately lead to a complete cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, as well as the release of all hostages who have been held there for the last eight months. It’s “time for this war to end,” Biden said.

A deal is yet to be finalized, and while Biden initially called it an Israeli proposal, Israel’s official position remains unclear. NBC News has reached out to the Israeli prime minister’s office for clarification.

Appearing on ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby reiterated Biden’s message, calling it an “Israeli proposal, one that they arrived at after intense diplomacy with our own national security team, and over at the State Department.”

Netanyahu appeared to undermine the plan, releasing a statement on Saturday that called a permanent cease-fire in Gaza a “nonstarter” until long-standing conditions for ending the war are met, reiterating that “Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed: the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel.”

In an interview Britain’s Sunday Times, Ophir Falk, chief foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu, emphasized that Israel was not rejecting the deal, saying that it was “a deal we agreed to — it’s not a good deal, but we dearly want the hostages released, all of them.”

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He added that Israel’s conditions “have not changed” — the release of the hostages and the destruction of Hamas.

Biden’s plan recast the end to the war, not with the destruction of Hamas, as Israel seeks, but with a degraded Hamas “no longer capable” of carrying out a large-scale attack on Israel like the one by the militant group on Oct. 7.

“Indefinite war in pursuit of an unidentified notion of total victory will only bog down Israel in Gaza,” Biden said.

Far-right factions within Netanyahu’s Cabinet reacted strongly to the proposal laid out by Biden, exposing the competing domestic pressures Netanyahu faces.

Bezalel Smotrich, finance minister and chairman of the far-right Religious Zionist Party, said on X that he would “not be part of a government that agrees to the proposed outline and ends the war without destroying Hamas.”

Itamar Ben Gvir, national security minister and leader of the far-right Jewish Power Party, called the proposal “a victory for terrorism” that would mean “absolute defeat,” and threatened on X “to dissolve the government” should Netanyahu agree to the proposal.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said the threats from Ben Gvir and Smotrich represented a “neglect of national security, of the hostages and of the residents of the north and the south.” Lapid had earlier pledged support to Netyanahu should he accept the deal in defiance of his far-right coalition partners.

“There is a deal on the table and it needs to be done. I remind Netanyahu that he has a security network from us for the hostage deal if Ben Gvir and Smotrich leave the government,” Lapid said on X.

For his part, “Netanyahu can’t wax enthusiastic about a plan that fails to achieve ‘absolute victory,’” Laura Blumenfeld, a Middle East analyst at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies in Washington, said. “That’s OK, as long as he avoids one word: ‘no.’”

Meanwhile, international pressure continued to build behind the U.S. as Spain, France, Germany and Belgium each backed the deal. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made calls to Arab leaders on Saturday affirming their commitment to a cease-fire. Qatar, Egypt and the U.S. released a joint statement backing the peace plan.

A spokesperson for Hamas released a statement shortly after the announcement, saying the group “views positively what was included in U.S. President Joe Biden’s speech.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo confirmed to NBC News Sunday that there is a U.S delegation in Egypt, but did not elaborate.

The plan’s first phase includes six weeks of a complete cease-fire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from populated areas, and the release of women and children being held hostage. The second phase would see the release of all living hostages in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, before a major reconstruction in Gaza and the return of the remains of deceased hostages to their families in the final phase.

“Biden is calling time on the war,” said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the U.K. international affairs think tank Chatham House.

“It’s very obvious that Israel on its own can’t achieve its objectives of total victory and eradicating Hamas,” she said, and Biden’s speech was about pressuring Israel to shift tactics and “find an off ramp to this war.”

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On Saturday night, tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to urge the government to accept a cease-fire.

Ratcheting up the pressure, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, the Israeli organization that advocates for the release of hostages taken during the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, said it will demonstrate in front of the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem on Sunday night as Israel’s war Cabinet convenes.

The organization has rallied around Biden’s plan, which it is dubbing the “Netanyahu Deal,” and called on “all government ministers and coalition members to publicly support the deal and do everything possible to ensure its immediate implementation.”

“We must not lose this moment,” the forum said in a statement. “Time is running out for the hostages.”

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