U.S.

Biden Team Sees Narrow Window for Deal on Cease-Fire and Hostages in Gaza

President Biden and his national security team see a narrow window to finally seal an agreement that would at least temporarily halt the war in Gaza and possibly end it for good even as they deflect pressure from college campus protests to abandon Israel in its fight against Hamas.

Several factors converging at once have renewed the administration’s hopes that it can break through the stalemate in the next week or two. Mr. Biden’s team wants to capitalize on the successful defense of Israel from Iranian attack, rising public pressure in Israel to free the hostages and Saudi eagerness for a new diplomatic and security initiative.

The window may be short. The president’s advisers are pressing for a cease-fire deal before Israel can begin its long-threatened assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, an operation with the potential for many civilian casualties that could thwart any short-term chances of peace. But administration officials have gone down this road before over the last several months, repeatedly expressing optimism only to see the chances for a deal collapse.

The administration is testing its proposition with a renewed push in the region. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, where he promoted a new “extraordinarily generous” offer by Israel, which signaled that it is now willing to accept the release of fewer hostages in the first stage of an agreement, 33 instead of 40.

Sameh Shoukry, the foreign minister of Egypt, which appears set to host a new round of talks in Cairo starting Tuesday, said he was “hopeful” about the latest cease-fire proposal, saying it “has taken into account the positions of both sides.”

Mr. Blinken’s Saudi hosts are eager to finalize a separate deal that would include a security agreement with the United States and civilian nuclear assistance as well as diplomatic recognition of Israel, which diplomats believe could be a transformative moment for a region that long ostracized the Jewish state. As part of that deal, however, the Saudis insist that Israel commit to a concrete plan for an eventual Palestinian state within a certain deadline, something Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has adamantly rejected so far.

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