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White House: Hostage Negotiations "Closer Than We Have Been Perhaps At Any Point; Officials: High Probability Volcano Erupts In Iceland; IDF Video Shows Tunnel At Al-Shifa Hospital. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired November 20, 2023 - 07:30   ET



GERSHON BASKIN, MIDDLE EAST DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITIES ORGANIZATION, NEGOTIATED RELEASE OF HAMAS HOSTAGE IN 2011 (via Skype): So you're essentially negotiating with people that you intend to kill, which makes it a very difficult negotiation.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: What about any potential role of China? This week we're going to see China host several Arab and Muslim- majority nations in terms of the leaders in Hong Kong. We know that China's top diplomat has called for, in their words, urgent action to end the conflict in Gaza.

Does China have sway here in terms of the hostage negotiations?

BASKIN: I'm not sure they have sway in terms of the hostages but I think that China has a major role to play in the post-war scenario of the need to rebuild Gaza under the framework of an international understanding that Israel's occupation over the Palestinian people will end and the two-state solution will be forced on Israel and Palestine.

I would be very happy to see China and the United States leading the international effort to rebuild Gaza together. No one builds infrastructure faster and more efficiently and probably cheaper than the Chinese do, and it might even help improve America-China relations at the same time.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Speaking of relations, there was a really fascinating piece in The New York Times over the weekend about your relationship with Ghazi Hamad. You two -- a senior Hamas official in Gaza. This had been your connection, right, in term -- and that relationship, after October 7, is essentially if not on pause finished at this -- at this point.

Can you just enlighten us as to what happened in that relationship, and is this a sign of what it could mean on a broader level for relations in the region?

BASKIN: Well, I wouldn't take it that far to relations in the region.

But Ghazi Hamad and I have been negotiating for 17 years. We negotiated the release of Gilad Shalit and 1,027 prisoners. We successfully negotiated two ceasefires. We've spent the last eight years trying to negotiate a deal that would release two Israeli soldiers -- armies that were killed in 2014 -- and two Israeli civilians who were held by Hamas since 2014. We were not successful there.

I tried to get him to spend a few days with me either in Norway and Switzerland where we would brainstorm together. That never happened. In the last month, I was pushing him to meet me for a few days in Cairo.

But what happened during this war as I was trying to advance a deal on the release of women, children, and elderly hostages in exchange for women and prisoners under the age of 18 in Israeli jails, in transferring messages back and forth it became apparent to me that he was out of the circle of decisionmakers being in Beirut and not connected to Gaza anymore.

And then he went on air on Lebanese television in which he justified the terrorist actions of Hamas inside of Israel and said that we would do October 7 again, and again, and again a million times and that Israel needed to be annihilated.

At that point, it was just too far. And the Ghazi Hamad that I've known for 18 -- 17 years is not the same Ghazi Hamad who is serving as the spokesperson for Hamas in this war.

HARLOW: It is a fascinating read. Thank for you that, Gershon Baskin. We appreciate you joining us.

BASKIN: Thank you.

HILL: Dozens of newborns evacuated from Gaza arriving now in Egypt for critical care. We're going to update you on their status just ahead.

HARLOW: Also, people in Iceland bracing for a volcanic eruption. We'll take you there next.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you hopeful about the situation that maybe the town will be spared if the big eruption happens?





HARLOW: Well, this morning, officials in Iceland there is still a very good chance of a volcanic eruption even as they let some evacuees return home to get their belongings. Steam from the mounting pressure underground has already punched through, threatening the southwest region for a week now.

Our Fred Pleitgen joins us live from Iceland. It is not every day, Fred, that you hear about things like this. That you see entire towns evacuated. And officials there are calling the area that you're in a danger zone. What can you tell us?

PLEITGEN: Yeah, they certainly are. And you're absolutely right. It's not every day or very rarely that you see something like this.

Of course, we know, Poppy, that Iceland is an area that has a lot of volcanic activity, but the big issue that they have right now is that this volcanic activity is taking place in a place where a lot of people live and also where there is a really big geothermal power plant as well. So it's a huge issue here and a very dangerous situation.

Here's what we're learning.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Nature's brut force punching through the ground, cracking roads and houses here in Grindavik, southern Iceland ahead of what could be a massive volcanic eruption threatening the entire town.

Residents are on the run, like Paul Petersson, who evacuated his wife and three small children.

PLEITGEN: You had to leave quickly or --


PLEITGEN: What was that like?

PETERSSON: It was horrible.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Iceland is in what's called a hot spot where magma often breaks through the Earth's crust, which can result in massive eruptions. And what happens here can affect large parts of the globe. In 2010, ash spewed into the atmosphere by a volcano here brought transatlantic air travel to a virtual standstill for weeks.

Iceland's government says this time around the effects could also be devastating with both Grindavik and a geothermal power plant nearby, which provides energy to Iceland's main international airport in the possible path of lava.

PLEITGEN: The authorities here are highly concerned about the town of Grindavik that, of course, has been evacuated a few days ago, but also about the geothermal power plant here in this area, and they are working 24/7 to try and dig a trench to redirect the lava if it comes to the surface. PLEITGEN (voice-over): Government experts here acknowledge they are

not certain the trench would prevent lava from damaging the power plant. The main problem isn't even the size of the possible eruption but the fact that it's so close to urban areas geophysicist Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson, of the University of Iceland, tells me.

MAGNUS TUMI GUDMUNDSSON, GEOPHYSICIST, UNIVERSITY OF ICELAND: It's so close to the town of Grindavik and the power plant, and that is the main concern that it could damage one or both of these facilities.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Because the eruption could happen any time, Grindavik's residents can only return for a few minutes on some days to retrieve personal items from their homes.


PLEITGEN: Are you hopeful about the situation that maybe the town will be spared if the big eruption happens?

OLAFSDOTTIR: Getting our house? No, not really, because the lava tunnel is laying very close to our house. So we are expecting to lose everything if it will erupt.


PLEITGEN (on camera): So as you can see there, some devastating scenes that are taking place there in the town of Grindavik. It is really remarkable to see, Poppy, how stoic the folks here are from this area because they also understand that they might never be able to go back to their houses and certainly might never be able to go back to that town again.

One of the updates that we've gotten also from the Icelandic government this morning -- they say that if there is a big eruption they believe that it will happen not in a matter of weeks but in a matter of days, Poppy.

HARLOW: Oh, you can hear the angst and the despair in the voice of that father you talked to, Fred, in the piece. Thank you for the reporting.

HILL: Today is President Biden's 81st birthday -- a number most people would be celebrating. But as for the Biden campaign, we know it's a big factor when it comes to younger voters in the 2024 race. We're going to break those down just ahead.


HARLOW: Welcome back.

There is new video released by the Israeli military of what it says is an exposed Hamas tunnel shaft at the Al-Shifa hospital compound in Gaza. CNN has not been able to verify the video ourselves but take a look. Here it is.

[07:45:03] The camera is lowered into the tunnel shaft and you see a set of spiral stairs. The camera then advances along the tunnel before coming to a sharp left turn. The tunnel continues before reaching a closed metal door that the IDF says it has not yet opened over fears it may be booby-trapped.

HILL: Hamas and hospital officials have denied the hospital is anything more than a medical complex. The IDF, however, has been arguing for weeks that Hamas is using Gaza's largest hospital as cover for what it believes is a terror infrastructure underneath. The hospital has not replied to CNN's request for comment.

And joining us now, international journalist and foreign policy analyst Rula Jebreal. It's good to have you here this morning, Rula.

You know, it's interesting. There's so much talk about there's this new video that was released. They even took our colleague Oren Liebermann in to see part of it, right -- a controlled visual -- controlled visuals but still important.

Senator Blumenthal was actually asked over the weekend about whether there is enough here. I want you to listen to his answer and then we'll get your take.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): There needs to be more transparency. Both Israel and the United States need to release more of this intelligence. There is reliable intelligence that can and should be released without compromising sources and methods that would bolster Israel's case in the court of world opinion.


HILL: His point about the court of world opinion is so important here.

Based on what we saw over the weekend and based on this video that has been released, has the case been bolstered this morning?

RULA JEBREAL, INTERNATIONAL JOURNALIST, FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: Look, this is what we know. Israel prevents international journalists from accessing Gaza freely and independently. We -- as journalists, we have a very important rule -- verify -- trust but verify, right? I mean, one of the main things that I teach my students is whatever any government -- whether it's the Saudi government, Emirate government, or American government -- whatever they tell you, you need really to verify. It's the golden rule, which is accuracy and transparency.

However, 40 -- four percent of Israeli citizens trust the government -- only four. So they are asking the American citizens to trust what they deliver as evidence without trusting our journalists actually to verify them.

Any journalist, including Liebermann, is not allowed to access freely and every footage that he films has to be accessed by the IDF, reviewed by them, and censored by them.

So I don't know what to call this. This is not transparency. This is something else.

In the meantime, when they are saying that and delivering these kind of evidence that are obviously delivered by them, they're saying that they're bombarding other hospitals -- not only Al-Shifa Hospital, the Ahli Hospital, the Rantisi Hospital. Sixteen hospitals have been bombarded -- so hospitals.

And their -- and their officials are telling us day in and day out in Israel and here in the United States that basically, in Gaza there is no innocent civilians. They are either people who are in cahoots with Hamas -- sympathizers -- or Hamas operatives.

There's .2 -- two million -- two million people in Gaza. Fifty percent are children under the age of 15 that were not even born when Hamas came to power in '06.

So again, I think we need to ask them what are -- what is really the objective? Is it only to go after Hamas or something more larger?

HARLOW: To your point, I do think this was interesting, though, from the White House. Jon Finer, who is the Deputy National Security adviser -- what he told Jake Tapper yesterday when Jake asked him do you think that Israel is heeding the warnings that the U.S. has said look at our mistakes after 9/11 and don't act impulsively or out of rage.

Here's what Jon Finer said.


JON FINER, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We think that their operation should not go forward until those people -- those additional civilians have been accounted for in their -- in their military planning. And so, we will be conveying that directly to them and have been conveying that directly to them. They should draw lessons from how the operation proceeded in the north, including lessons that lead to greater and enhanced protections for civilian life. Things like narrowing the area of active combat and clarifying where civilians can seek refuge from the fighting.


HARLOW: He also made a point to say in that interview every life has equal value, talking namely about Palestinian civilians as well as Israeli civilians.

Do you read that as the White House stepping up its pressure on the Netanyahu regime about how they are carrying this out?

JEBREAL: They might, but the Netanyahu regime and the Netanyahu government is not listening to them.

As of this morning, before I came here, you have three foreign ministers who are calling the international community to expel all Gazans in perpetuity -- forever -- saying that the only way Israel can ever feel safe is if these people are not there. And they are giving two options. Either we wipe out Gaza or you take them out and you basically resettlement elsewhere.


I mean, you have minister after minister, especially -- there is one minister in particular that is deeply problematic and this is the minister of finance. And he said that they don't exist -- the Palestinian people. He denied even their existence. He tweeted this morning something about we really need to get rid of Palestinians not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank where in the last three weeks the Israeli army killed 200 people. Fifty of them are children.

So again, I think we -- it's incumbent on us as journalists when they appear on our networks to ask them what is really the objective. It's only Hamas? Because they seem to convey over and again that the whole civilian population is a legitimate target, according to them.

HARLOW: It's been the key question that we've been asking Israeli officials. Like, what is the plan -- post-plan for Gaza?

Thank you, Rula.

JEBREAL: Thank you.

HARLOW: Nice to have you. We appreciate it.

HILL: Well, Americans are angrier, in fact, more than ever -- and that is, of course, affecting politics. For many people, the anger comes from politics. We'll take a closer look.

Also, JFK's murder debated by some for six decades. Rob Reiner joins us to discuss his new podcast on this ahead.




REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): Anybody sitting in the complex -- if you want to come down to the floor and come explain to me one material, meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done besides well, I guess it's not as bad as the Democrats.


HILL: That, of course, is Republican Chip Roy from Texas addressing the House last week voicing some of the anger that we've seen boil over on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are off this week for the Thanksgiving holiday. This comes, of course, after a tense week of elbow-throwing, name-calling, near-fights -- a lot of really impressive behavior.

It is not just on Capitol Hill though. A majority of Americans say politics make them angry. Look at these numbers. Always or often, more than half of Americans, according to this recent Pew data. And more than a third say sometimes.

Joining us now to unpack is CNN political commentators Jamal Simmons and Alice Stewart. Jamal, you're at the table so you're lucky.


HILL: You get that first one on anger.

SIMMONS: Of course.

HILL: I mean, this is -- this does not know a political party -- the anger and frustration that Americans feel. It's certainly not just lawmakers like Chip Roy. Given all the anger that exists right now, is there a way to break through that and move forward?

SIMMONS: Yeah. I think a big chunk of this anger has to do with Americans feeling so disconnected from where we were. You know, you see people making so much money at the top of the income scale. People at the bottom of the income scale are feeling like they're struggling to get ahead.

I think this is a big challenge of what's happening for the president right now, right? We see this aggregate number of how the GDP is doing and the economy seems to be doing well, but then you see people who are at the lower end of the income scale who are struggling to make ends meet because inflation was so high.

So now, we've seen over the course of the last year -- there's a great budget index that just came out that shows that people are now starting to see their incomes go ahead of inflation and they may now be about to beat inflation, which means people will have more money, which will help lessen some of the strife.

Then, of course, you've got foreign policy out there. There's a lot of things that are really angering. And let's forget the cultural changes that have happened in America in the last decade and a half. I think a lot of Americans feel uneasy about the fact that America is changing so much so fast and they're really kind of revolting against kind of the elites who they think are guiding that change versus people who are trying to struggle every day to make ends meet.

HARLOW: Alice, what do you think of -- that was Republican Chip Roy calling out his own party -- Republicans on Capitol Hill. You're a Republican strategist. Following what we saw last week -- I mean, so much childish bad behavior or whatever you want to call it among members of Congress. What do you think?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, FORMER TED CRUZ COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It is, and a Pew Research poll showed that 65 percent of people are just exhausted with --

HARLOW: Yeah. STEWART: -- politics. And they use words just like you just used, Poppy. They're -- it's chaotic, it's disgusting, it's disturbing, and it's bad.

And look, this has to change. Look, we can change the course of the direction of this country by engaging in common-sense conversation -- and engaging and not insulting, and that's where we need to start.

And look, I think it's also more than just the tone and tenor here in Washington, D.C. It's also the accomplishments. Look, there is no denying the fact that Donald Trump turned on the spigot for divisive rhetoric but we're seeing the floodgates open up on both sides by members of Congress. And I think that the more we can do to have a meaningful conversation the better.

But people ultimately, at the end of the day, are not so concerned about what's happening in Washington but what is happening at home. And when they see the economy is not working for them and they are frustrated with what's going on on the crime in the streets, and many are concerned with what's going on with these proxy wars with -- in Israel and Ukraine, that, in and of itself, is also a big factor and why people are so frustrated and quite frankly, fed up with politics.

HILL: Alice, really quickly, just to follow up on what you said about the former president turning on the spigot, right, and what we see in terms of this discourse across the country, there's also a lack of -- especially, prominent Republicans, frankly -- standing up to that and saying we need to switch the conversation -- really pushing back, including those who would like to be in the White House in 2024.

Would that make a difference?

STEWART: Look, it would -- we've seen a lot of them. Jeff Flake, for one, gave a tremendous speech when he left Washington, D.C., talking about how we need to change the course of this country and we need to engage in respectful conversation. Those are the kind of people that are leaving Washington, unfortunately.

And what we're seeing with many in the Republican Party and Donald Trump's base -- they like the fact that he is a fighter. They like the fact that the economy was strong under him. They like the fact that --

HILL: Um-hum.

STEWART: -- he did what he could to fight crime.

They put up with his tone and tenor and that's why we're seeing many Republicans, unfortunately, afraid to really stand up because they understand that Trump's base isn't just distracted or deterred by that tone and tenor. They're more looking at the policies.

And so, Republicans -- at least until we can get Donald Trump out of the system.