Sherwin Pomerantz

The 159th day of Israel’s war against Hamas

Regarding a hostage deal, US Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns said on Tuesday there was “still a possibility” of a Gaza ceasefire deal, although many complicated issues remain.  “I think there’s still the possibility of such a deal. And as I said, it won’t be for lack of trying on our part, working very closely with our Israeli, Qatari, and Egyptian counterparts. This is a very tough process. I don’t think anyone can guarantee success. The only thing I think you can guarantee is that the alternatives are worse,” he told a House of Representatives hearing.

This morning, however, reports out of Cairo indicate that Hamas has softened its position and that a deal to release another 40 hostages along with a pause in the fighting is back on the table. News services reported that the Qataris have “leaned” on the Hamas leadership and told them that if they did not start to cooperate with the negotiators their leadership would be expelled from Qatar, where they have been living a charmed life even during the war.  This is an ongoing story but it appears that there is progress. The 40 hostages would be composed primarily of women, children and the aged.

US officials are preparing for a pause on funding the main UN agency for Palestinians to become permanent due to opposition in Congress, even as the Biden administration insists the aid group’s humanitarian work is indispensable.

The US, along with more than a dozen countries, suspended its funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in the Near East in January after Israel accused 12 of the agency’s 13,000 employees in Gaza of participating in the deadly Oct 7 Hamas attack. The UN has launched an investigation into the allegations, and UNRWA fired some staff after Israel provided the agency with information on the allegations.

The United States – UNRWA’s largest donor, providing $300-$400 million annually – said it wants to see the results of that inquiry and corrective measures taken before it will consider resuming funding. Even if the pause is lifted, only about $300,000 – what is left of already appropriated funds – would be released to UNRWA. Anything further would require congressional approval.

Six aid trucks directly entered the northern Gaza Strip early Tuesday in a pilot program meant to prevent the Hamas terrorist group from hijacking the supplies, the IDF said. “By government directives, six humanitarian aid trucks containing aid from the World Food [Program] entered the northern Gaza Strip via the ’96th gate’ on the security fence last night [Tuesday],” the IDF announced, adding that a security check was first carried out at the Kerem Shalom crossing to the south. The results of the pilot will be presented to government officials.

Hamas has been stealing up to 60% of the aid entering the Gaza Strip. The War Cabinet decided in late February to start transferring humanitarian supplies directly to the northern Gaza Strip to bypass the Hamas terrorist group. Nevertheless, the US and other countries have been airdropping humanitarian into the coastal enclave and American military vessels are en route to Gaza to establish a temporary pier, for unloading supplies, at the direction of President Joe Biden. Separately, a ship carrying nearly 200 tons of food for Gaza departed Larnaca port in Cyprus early Tuesday as part of a pilot program to provide humanitarian aid to the coastal enclave via the Mediterranean Sea.

Two op-eds appear in today’s New York Times regarding Israel’s plan to route the remaining four Hamas divisions from their headquarters in Rafah. Bret Stephens, a former editor of the Jerusalem Post now writing for the NYT, who has lived here in the past, engages in a Q&A with himself about why it is critical for us to continue the military operation in Rafah. Tom Friedman, on the other hand, laments Netanyahu’s making Israel “radioactive” in the court of world opinion. These opposing viewpoints are attached to today’s dispatch for your edification. Hope you find them of interest.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.