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Biden expected to speak with Netanyahu on Thursday


AP, Reuters

US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.



CNN
 — 

The framework for a hostage and ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas is “now in place” according to a senior administration official. That acknowledgement comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday.

The call came as Israel and Hamas appear to be on the brink of a framework agreement for a deal, an Israeli source familiar with the negotiations has told CNN. Hamas recently provided a response to the framework to Qatari and Egyptian mediators, a move Israeli officials believe will enable the two parties to enter detailed negotiations to reach an agreement. A deal, however, is still not finalized nor is it assured.

Biden laid out the three-phase proposal in a May speech. The first phase would last six weeks and include the “withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza” and “release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, the wounded in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.” Phase 2 would allow for the “exchange for the release of all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers.” In Phase 3, the president said, a “major reconstruction plan for Gaza would commence and any final remains of hostages who’ve been killed will be returned to their families.”

The official noted that the two leaders during their call Thursday seemed to reach a “breakthrough” on the transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2. The deal as it stands now is “very consistent” with what the president had laid out in his May speech, the official added.

“Some of the key issues on the transition of a Phase 1 to Phase 2 have really been a stumbling block. I think we had a breakthrough in that area,” the official said. “The text now is very consistent with the address of the president on May 27 and the UN Security Council resolution.”

The official cautioned that a final deal could take some time to come together, and that the administration will do “all” that it can to help reach a final agreement.

“This is not a deal that’s going to come together in a period of days. There’s still work to do, and we’re prepared to do all we can to facilitate reaching an agreement as soon as possible, a final agreement,” the official added.

The call lasted 30 minutes and was “focused” on the details of the hostage and ceasefire deal, according to a senior administration official, who added that Biden will have the opportunity to talk about the deal with other world leaders next week during the NATO summit, which will be held in Washington.

When asked if the administration believes that Netanyahu is playing politics and could try to sabotage the deal, the official said that the deal is structed in a way that “fully protects Israel’s interests.”

Hostage talks are expected to be held in Doha starting as early as Friday and continue through the next few days, the official said.

In a readout provided by the White House, Biden and Netanyahu discussed “ongoing efforts to finalize a ceasefire deal together with the release of hostages.”

“The leaders discussed the recent response received from Hamas,” the White House said. “The president welcomed the prime minister’s decision to authorize his negotiators to engage with US, Qatari, and Egyptian mediators in an effort to close out the deal.”

Biden “reaffirmed his ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,” wrote the White House, which also announced a meeting on July 15 between the two leaders’ national security teams.

CNN previously reported the US recently proposed new language to help bridge gaps in discussions for a deal. The proposed language focused on a period in the first phase of the proposal when Israel and Hamas would be expected to hold more negotiations with the goal of moving to the second phase of the deal.

A US official says the response appears to be constructive while adding more work will need to continue.

An Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, also told CNN that Netanyahu will convene a cabinet meeting Thursday night.

Biden and Netanyahu last spoke on May 6. The two men are expected to meet in Washington in several weeks when the Israeli prime minister visits to address Congress, a source familiar with the matter previously told CNN’s MJ Lee. US and Israeli officials are still nailing down logistical details for the Biden-Netanyahu meeting, which would likely take place at the White House, the source said. The two leaders will see each other, barring any abrupt last-minute change in circumstances.

The call also comes as Biden is fighting for his own political survival back home after floundering on the debate stage against former President Donald Trump last week. Biden’s handling of the conflict between Israel and Hamas remains a key issue of concern for many in the Democratic Party, including younger voters.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

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