newsIsrael at War

Hostage deal draws mixed reviews in Washington

"Negotiating with terrorists never works. Biden's insistence that Israel bargain with Hamas is as tragically wrong as his swapping $6 billion with Iran for five U.S. hostages," wrote the former U.S. official John Bolton.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets with Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha, Qatar on Oct. 13, 2023. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets with Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha, Qatar on Oct. 13, 2023. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists globally. Why are we going to negotiate with the economic terrorists here that are the Republican Party?” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) told CNN in late May. Some 40 minutes after Israel announced that it had reached a hostages-for-ceasefire agreement with Hamas terrorists on Tuesday evening, the progressive New York Democrat struck a different tone.

“I’m grateful that our continuous calls for a ceasefire and the return of the hostages has begun to make a difference,” Bowman wrote. “Soon, we’ll see a four-day ceasefire and the return of 50 hostages. Let’s keep fighting until we see an end to all of the violence and bombing and the return of every single hostage.”

It wasn’t clear what, if any, role Bowman played in the agreement, but his apparent flip-flop on the concept of negotiating with terrorists appeared to be a common thread in Washington.

“Today’s deal is a testament to the tireless diplomacy and determination of many dedicated individuals across the United States government to bring Americans home,” U.S. President Joe Biden stated late Tuesday night in Washington.

“I welcome the deal to secure the release of hostages taken by the terrorist group Hamas during its brutal assault against Israel on Oct. 7,” Biden stated.

The U.S. president thanked Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, and Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, president of Egypt, for “critical leadership and partnership in reaching this deal.”

“I appreciate the commitment that Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and his government have made in supporting an extended pause to ensure this deal can be fully carried out and to ensure the provision of additional humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering of innocent Palestinian families in Gaza,” Biden added.

“Today’s outcome is the result of tireless diplomacy and relentless effort across the department and broader United States government,” stated U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“I appreciate the leadership and ongoing partnership of Egypt and Qatar in this work,” the secretary said. “I also thank the government of Israel for supporting a humanitarian pause that will facilitate the transfer of hostages to safety and allow additional humanitarian assistance to reach Palestinian civilians in Gaza.”

Some six-and-a-half hours before the deal was announced, Matthew Miller, the U.S. State Department spokesman, sought to decouple the hostage deal and new aid to Palestinians.

“It has always been the position of the United States that we do not need a hostage deal. There shouldn’t… that to get more aid in, that more fuel, more food, more water, more medicine should not be contingent on a hostage agreement being reached,” he said.

Hamas distributes financial aid provided by Qatar to Gazans at a post office in the Strip, Sept. 8, 2020. Photo by Majdi Fathi/TPS.

“That said, it has been clear that for some time that an agreement on hostages would release or would unlock the potential for delivery of more humanitarian assistance, so we’re hopeful that that would take place,” Miller added. “But, again, it has always been our position that the two don’t need to be linked, that humanitarian assistance should be delivered as quickly as possible for the benefit of the Palestinian people.”

Miller called a “screening process,” presumably Israel’s, “a bit of an impediment to the fast delivery of aid.”

‘A reality on the ground’

At a press briefing on Aug. 25, 2021, Jen Psaki, then White House press secretary, was asked about the evacuation from Afghanistan of U.S. citizens and Afghani people, who were U.S. government employees and held special immigrant visas.

“Why haven’t we heard the president say, ‘The United States does not negotiate with terrorists’? Is that still the U.S. policy?” asked Peter Doocy, the Fox News White House correspondent.

“Well, of course, it is, Peter,” Psaki said. “But I would also say that there’s a reality that the Taliban is currently controlling large swaths of Afghanistan. That is a reality on the ground.”

“Negotiating with terrorists never works. Biden’s insistence that Israel bargain with Hamas is as tragically wrong as his swapping $6 billion with Iran for five U.S. hostages,” wrote John Bolton, a former U.S. national security advisor and former interim U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, shortly before Israel announced the deal.

“If Hamas were civilized, it would never have taken hostages. It is, however, utterly barbaric,” Bolton added. “The Israeli and U.S. strategic objective must remain the destruction of Hamas terrorism.”

“Until Hamas is eradicated, the Israeli people will never be safe,” wrote Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), some 20 minutes after Israel announced the deal. “We must destroy these violent terrorists.”

Over the weekend, Blackburn wrote that “The $6 billion to Iran should have never been on the table to begin with. We don’t negotiate with terrorists in America.”

‘Diplomatic breakthrough’

Other lawmakers saw things differently. “I am pleased and relieved that we are close to seeing the first 50 hostages be released and reunited with their loved ones,” wrote Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “The release of 50 out of 240 hostages would mark real progress, but we cannot rest until all the hostages are free.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated: “The agreement reached today to release some hostages is a hopeful signal for some of the American and Israeli families whose lives have been shattered in the wake of the Oct. 7 terrorist attack against Israel.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) wrote that she is “deeply heartened by this initial agreement that is expected to result in the release of 50 civilian hostages, including women and children and grateful for President Biden’s tireless diplomatic efforts to free innocent victims of Hamas terror.”

Wasserman Schultz added that she was thankful that Biden “did not heed calls for an immediate ceasefire weeks ago, as Israel could not have achieved this breakthrough had one occurred. A unilateral ceasefire only serves Hamas terrorists, who broke a ceasefire on Oct. 7—and vow to do so again and again.”

Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh meet in Doha, Qatar, August 2021. Source: Hamas.

“This big diplomatic breakthrough is a tremendous relief to family and friends worried sick over the hostages and civilians in Gaza,” wrote Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). “Now let’s redouble our efforts to bring every hostage home, truck aid in, and end the terrorist violence and war that have left thousands dead.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a progressive member of the so-called “Squad” and a frequent critic of the Jewish state, wrote that she is “grateful for this deal, including the release of hostages, humanitarian aid to Gaza and a temporary ceasefire. We must continue to push for a permanent ceasefire and a release of all hostages to end this horror.”

Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) stated that she is “overjoyed” that many hostages will be released. “This diplomatic breakthrough is a testament to the leadership of President Biden and the ironclad U.S.-Israel relationship,” she said. “More innocent hostages remain in Gaza under control of Hamas. I will continue to share their stories as we work toward securing their release. We must bring them all home.”

“This is welcome news, but lasting peace and progress can only be accomplished with the return of all hostages,” wrote New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat. “The prayers of New York City are with Israel tonight, and for the safety of all innocent life enduring this conflict.”

Bob Morgan, a Democratic Illinois state representative, thanked Biden for “fighting for the release of 50 kidnapped Israeli civilians. 190 to go. Praying for peace and the immediate release of the remaining hostages.”

American Jewish response

“We deeply appreciate President Biden’s steadfast support for Israel during this war and the administration’s tireless efforts to broker this release of hostages,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee stated. “We are grateful these 50 hostages are coming home while we continue to demand the release of all those taken by the terror group.”

“Today’s agreement is a direct byproduct of the tremendous progress of Israel’s military operation to degrade and destroy Hamas, and is further proof that sustained Israeli military pressure on Hamas is essential for gaining the release of hostages,” AIPAC added.

The American Jewish Committee welcomed the Qatar-brokered agreement. “AJC is relieved that these hostages are slated to be returned home and deeply appreciates the role of President Biden and his administration, and other world partners, in securing their release,” it stated.

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