update deskIsrael at War

Netanyahu discusses hostage negotiations with White House envoy

Brett McGurk also met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said that Jerusalem would “expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators.”

U.S. diplomat Brett McGurk speaks at the Munich Security Conference in 2017. Credit: Kuhlmann/MSC via Wikimedia Commons.
U.S. diplomat Brett McGurk speaks at the Munich Security Conference in 2017. Credit: Kuhlmann/MSC via Wikimedia Commons.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Thursday with White House special envoy Brett McGurk to discuss a potential hostage deal and the Israel Defense Forces’ prospective operation in Rafah in the southernmost Gaza Strip.

According to reports, McGurk successfully urged Netanyahu to send a delegation to the hostage negotiations kicking off in Paris on Friday.

Axios reported that the Biden administration is currently seeking an agreement that would include at least a six-week pause in the war. One of the main remaining sticking points between Israel and Hamas is the number of Palestinian security prisoners that would be released as part of the deal and how the list would be determined.

McGurk emphasized to Netanyahu that Egyptian and Qatari mediators had made some progress on closing the gaps, and that Washington was intent on closing a deal due to concerns over the condition of the captives and because of the fast-approaching Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Notably, 13 Jewish House Democrats on Thursday sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden calling on him to “exhaust every effort to facilitate a mutual, temporary ceasefire agreement” that includes freeing the Israeli hostages.

Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to continue warring against Hamas until “total victory” is achieved, adding that those urging Jerusalem to forgo an operation in Rafah were effectively calling for the Jewish state to lose the war.

Earlier Thursday, McGurk met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said that Jerusalem would “expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators.

“At the same time,” Gallant continued, “the IDF is preparing the continuation of intense ground operations” in Gaza.

Their discussion focused on efforts to return the remaining 134 hostages; operational developments in Hamas strongholds in central and southern Gaza; and humanitarian aid efforts facilitated by Israel, together with the Biden administration and international partners.

Gallant also raised the issue of Iranian aggression via its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and discussed Tehran’s effort to smuggle weapons and explosives into Israeli territory.

The defense minister expressed his appreciation for McGurk’s “leadership and personal commitment to addressing the hostage issue, as well as his strong stance against terrorism and in support of Israel’s defense,” according to a statement from Gallant’s office.

“Their discussion reflects the powerful bond between the United States and Israel and close coordination between the administrations,” it added.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with visiting White House envoy Brett McGurk on Feb. 22, 2024. Photo by Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry.

‘There is no pressure’

Israel’s War Cabinet voted on Thursday night to dispatch a team to Paris for hostage negotiations in Paris.

The meetings will take place on Friday and Saturday, building on last month’s initial gathering in the French capital as well as intermittent talks in Cairo aimed at realizing a proposal to free the remaining 134 Israeli captives in exchange for an extended pause in the war.

Netanyahu has repeatedly described Hamas’s demands as “delusional,” arguing that bowing to the Palestinian terrorist organization would lead to another massacre and a “major disaster.”

On Tuesday, the prime minister vowed to not cave to international pressure demanding a ceasefire in the war.

“There is considerable pressure on Israel at home and abroad to stop the war before we achieve all of its goals, including a deal at any price to free the hostages,” said Netanyahu.

Instead, he reiterated his commitment to continue prosecuting the war until Israel achieves all its goals: eliminating Hamas, releasing all of the hostages and ensuring that Gaza never again constitutes a threat to Israel.

“There is no pressure, none, that can change this,” said Netanyahu.

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