Blinken to brief Israeli leaders on ceasefire in fifth round of shuttle diplomacy

There are hopes of a possible ceasefire in the Middle East as the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken travels to Israel - ITV News Correspondent John Ray was live in the studio with the details

The US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken knows all too well that since he was last in Israel, the Middle East conflagration has spread and claimed its first American lives.

He also knows that as one of the world’s most important firefighters, the best thing he could do to douse the flames, would be to bring about a ceasefire in Gaza.

Hezbollah in Lebanon; the Houthis in Yemen; the Shia militias in Iraq and Syria - all would be robbed of their excuse for making trouble.

By common consent, Israel and Hamas are closer to a truce than they have ever been since the last week-long one broke down at the end of November.

Hamas’ response to the latest set of proposals has made Qatari mediators feel "optimistic."

But President Joe Biden has called Hamas’ demands "a little over the top."

No doubt they have come back asking for the permanent ceasefire that Israel is refusing to grant them.

The group is afraid that once it has released the remaining 130 or so hostages (some thirty of whom are probably dead) Israel will simply resume its offensive.

The Israelis want to preserve the right to do just that. Every day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will settle for nothing short of "total victory."

However, many observers predict that if there is a pause of six or eight weeks the Israelis would find it difficult to get back into the business of waging a full scale war.

And, crucially, there might be other developments during the pause that help preserve it.

Key among those might be steps towards Israeli-Saudi normalisation. For the Israelis this is the big carrot.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted an invasion of Rafah is necessary to achieve victory. Credit: AP

Every since the creation of the state in 1948 Israel has craved acceptance, a sense of belonging in this region. The Saudis are willing to bestow just that.

And Riyadh leads not just the Arab world, but the Muslim one. Might such an agreement lead to compacts with Malaysia, Indonesia, even Pakistan.

There is the feeling that Iran is casting a bigger and bigger shadow over the Middle East.

Through its proxies Iran has found a way to use the Palestinian issue to connect with the Arab street. And that worries Arab regimes.

Those same regimes want Hamas defeated, Iran taken down a peg or two, Israeli military know-how on their side and cast-iron US security guarantees.

For those things to come to pass there has to be a Gaza ceasefire and a visible path to Palestinian statehood.

The current Israeli government is unlikely to agree to those things and they are probably unattainable this side of the US election.

But there is a grand bargain to be struck and it will require interlocking and revolutionary steps forward by all involved.

Think of the Olympic rings - not a bad analogy given that only diplomatic Olympians can achieve it.

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