Gaza Ceasefire Proposal: Diplomacy or Magic Trick?

On June 10, the Security Council adopted a U.S. resolution for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza. The vote was 14-0 with Russia abstaining. There are many odd features of the resolution: especially who proposed it and who has accepted it.

At stage left and stage right are the Israeli and Hamas negotiating teams. At center stage is the United States. The U.S. has kept the audience’s attention focussed on Israel and Hamas. Not enough of the focus is on the maneuvers and performance of the United States.

Misdirection is the essence of a magic trick. The magician manipulates his audience into looking at something else while the sleight of hand goes unseen. While the U.S. is keeping everyone’s gaze on the Israeli and Hamas responses, is it possible that the U.S. is performing a diplomatic sleight of hand? Is the U.S. performing diplomacy or, lacking the ability to pull off the diplomacy, is it deceptive diplomatic sleight of hand?

This article is not about the Israeli or Hamas negotiators nor their responses to the ceasefire proposal. That is the misdirection. So, keep your focus on the American performance. The Israeli and Hamas responses need only be pointed to in order to put a spotlight on the misdirection. The main spotlight needs to be on the American performance that is directing your gaze.

The U.S. says that Israel has accepted the proposal. They go so far as to embed that claim in the text of the resolution, which says that the Security Council “Welcomes the new ceasefire proposal announced on May 31, which Israel accepted.” Though the U.S. tells the audience that Israel is the author of the proposal and that they have accepted it, Israel has nowhere publicly said that.

A statement believed to have been issued by Netanyahu’s office on June 11 maintains that “Israel will not end the war before achieving all its war objectives: destroying Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, freeing all the hostages and ensuring Gaza doesn’t pose a threat to Israel in the future.” It then adds that “The proposal presented enables Israel to achieve these goals and Israel will indeed do so.”

But is that a hint at accepting the proposal or rejecting it? The statement says that destroying Hamas militarily is consistent with the proposal. But the proposal as seen by, and passed by, the Security Council commits the two sides to “an immediate, full, and complete ceasefire.” The statement says the proposal “enables Israel to achieve its goals,” but it does not say whether Israel accepts the proposal.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he “met with Prime Minister Netanyahu last night, and he reaffirmed his commitment to the proposal.” But Netanyahu has not yet delivered that line in a public performance. The New York Times reports that he “has repeatedly declined to take a firm stand on the plan” and that he has “sowed doubts” by calling “the idea of a negotiated permanent cease-fire – which Hamas has called essential – a “nonstarter.”

The U.S. draws the audience’s attention to the Israeli side accepting the ceasefire proposal. But the sleight of hand is that no such acceptance has been made on the public stage.

The U.S. also says that Hamas has not yet accepted the proposal. The text of the Resolution says that the Security Council “calls upon Hamas to also accept it.” Israel goes so far as to say Hamas has rejected it.

Because the U.S. has created the illusion of Israeli acceptance, they now create the illusion that the life or death of the ceasefire proposal “really is down to one person at this point,” pointing to Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar.

But Hamas has accepted the outlines of the ceasefire resolution in principle. They have accepted the ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the exchange of hostages.

On June 11, Qatar, Egypt and the U.S. confirmed that they had received a response from Hamas. The Israeli evaluation is that Hamas “effectively rejects” the ceasefire proposal. But while one Israeli official said that “Hamas has rejected the proposal,” another said that “Hamas’ response included amendments to the Israeli proposal, including a timetable for a permanent cease-fire and a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.” More detailed reporting now seems to lay out the specific amendments.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on June 12 that, though some of the amendments “differ more substantially from what was outlined in the UN Security Council resolution,” he says that “m]any of the proposed changes are minor and not unanticipated.” He said that continued talks could “bridge the gaps.” The Israeli source has also said that “talks will continue,” and Hamas said that “If there’s a desire to move forward and ending the war, especially on the part of the United States, an agreement can be reached.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, seemed to subtly disagree with his colleague at the NSA. He said “Hamas proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table. Some of the changes are workable and some are not.” Then continuing the sleight of hand that Israel has clearly accepted and Hamas has clearly rejected, Blinken said, “It was a deal that Israel accepted and the world was behind. Hamas could have answered with a single word: ‘yes’… As a result, the war will go on and more people will suffer.”

It is not entirely clear whether Israel or Hamas has entirely accepted the ceasefire proposal. What seems clear is that U.S. redirection is making it look like Israel has and that it is now all up to Hamas. This American performance raises the possibility that what looks like transparent diplomacy has deceptive elements of sleight of hand.

So far, Hamas has offered an, at least partially, positive response – what Blinken called a “hopeful sign” – and Israel has, so far, not offered a clear publicly response. Professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and an expert on the Middle East Stephen Zunes, told me that “The Biden administration is spinning it to make it look like it’s just the opposite.” That raises the question of whether the U.S. is trying to achieve its goals with a misleading sleight of hand.

Ted Snider is a regular columnist on U.S. foreign policy and history at and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets. To support his work or for media or virtual presentation requests, contact him at