Updated Feb 22, 2024 - World

Bibi agrees to send Israeli negotiators for hostage talks after U.S. pressure

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Sebastian ScheinerGetty Images

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Sebastian Scheiner/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed on Thursday to send Israeli negotiators to Paris on Friday for talks with CIA director Bill Burns, the Qatari prime minister and Egyptian spy chief on a new hostage deal, an Israeli official and a source with direct knowledge told Axios.

Why it matters: The decision follows external pressure from the Biden administration and internal pressure from some members of Netanyahu's war cabinet and the leadership of Israel's defense establishment and intelligence community.

  • Brett McGurk, President Biden's top Middle East adviser, urged Israeli officials earlier Thursday to send a delegation to actively negotiate, saying some progress has been made with Hamas.

The big picture: The hostage deal the Biden administration is pushing would lead to at least a six-week pause in fighting.

  • Biden administration officials say they want to try and get a deal before the start of Ramadan in less than three weeks.
  • The main sticking point between Israel and Hamas centers on differences over the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released and how the list will be determined for the first stage of what could be a three-phase deal.
  • Netanyahu has taken a tough line in the talks, instructing negotiators earlier this month to be in listen-only mode. He later refused to send a delegation for follow-up talks.

Yes, but: The Israeli war cabinet on Thursday "approved sending the delegation and also gave negotiators a mandate to negotiate and not only listen like in the previous round of talks," an Israeli official said.

  • The Israeli Prime Minister's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Behind the scenes: McGurk while in Israel met with families of six American hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing with reporters.

  • Kirby said the administration is fully committed to getting a hostage deal that will lead to a pause in the fighting in Gaza.
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