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Israeli Government Meeting Now To Approve Deal To Release Hostages Held By Hamas; Biden: "We're Now Very Close" To A Hostage Deal; Sources: Possible Hostage Deal Imminent; Hostage Families Speak As Deal Appears Close. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 21, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, a major breakthrough on hostage negotiations. Israel's war cabinet is meeting right now on a deal with Hamas to free about 50 of the 237 people being held captive. It's been 45 days since hostages mostly innocent civilians were taken by Hamas on the Jewish Sabbath, taken during an attack on Israel when terrorists raped women and murdered families.

More than thousand people that day, for each spare that fate and instead taken hostage. The unknown and the wait is excruciating for their families. Now, we are told an announcement of a deal that will allow some of those hostages to come home could be imminent. President Biden addressed that moment ago.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We're now very close, very close. And we could bring some of these hostages home very soon. I don't want to get into the details of things because nothing is done until it's done. And we have more to say, we will. But things are looking good.


BASH: CNN is covering the story from all angles. Oren Lieberman is in Tel Aviv. MJ Lee is here in Washington at the White House. MJ, I want to start with you. That was a pretty remarkable moment from the president of the United States to lean that far into where he thinks that this negotiation is right now.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. You heard the president saying that we are very close to a deal. And that very much echoes what sources have been telling CNN all morning, that the U.S., Israel and Hamas are on the cusp of announcing this deal. And it could come as early as today.

I was in the room when the president made those remarks. And I did try to ask him at the end, how many Americans he believes maybe among the 50 hostages initially released. And he said I'll have plenty of time to talk about the hostages, but not now basically declining to go into any of the details. And I'll let Oren speak to the details of sort of the contours of this potential deal.

But at least for the Biden administration, this of course, Dana, has been an urgent priority, trying to get these hostages out because they have said all along that they believe there are at least a handful of American citizens in the mix in Gaza being held by Hamas.

And now what U.S. officials are saying is that they are hopeful that three-year-old American citizen Abigail Edan will be among the 50 hostages that are initially released. She is the youngest known American hostage. Her parents were killed by Hamas. So, this is a very tenuous situation, but hopefully U.S. officials are saying this three- old American toddler will be in the mix of the 50 hostages.

We've of course, Dana, seen U.S. officials working around the clock to try to secure this deal. Over the last few weeks, the president of course has been on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Emir of Qatar, president of Egypt, and other top U.S. officials have been traveling in the region as well.

But Dana, it's important to underscore if this deal were to come to fruition, this is not only significant because of the release of hostages, but because this would mark the first sustained pause in fighting and the first major de escalatory step that Israel will be taking really since the war first began.

BASH: MJ, thank you so much for that reporting. And let's get more specific about what sources are telling us this deal may include the release of 50 women and children. And in exchange, there would be a four or five day pause in fighting as MJ just alluded to, three Palestinian prisoners would be swapped for each civilian Israeli hostage or other hostage being released by Hamas. Israel would stop flying surveillance drones over Gaza for at least six hours each day.

Oren, I'm going to go to you now about what is happening in Israel as we speak that government is meeting. What are you hearing about how that meeting is going and whether or not they will approve this deal?


OREN LIEBERMAN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: So, this is all part of a legal and political process that is required to approve such a deal. And that is required for a critical part of this and that is to approve the release of Palestinian prisoners, women and children. So, the first part of that is the war cabinet is meeting and it's a very small group of people including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that will lead straight into a meeting of the security cabinet.

Again, that's a slightly larger group. And then the full cabinet itself, that is the government. And it needs to be approved that each one of those stages for this deal to go through and that's critical, because two partners in Netanyahu's governing coalition to far right partners, I should say, I've already put out statements saying they will oppose this deal. And that could of course, scuttle it. And if they wanted to go to the extreme, they could theoretically topple Netanyahu's government. But having spoken to one of the families of the hostages a short time ago, they say they received an assurance from one of the other critical members of Netanyahu's government that if this deal is put forward, it will get approved. And that gives them a critical bit of confidence that having gotten to this point, where we see the process in Israel begin to approve a hostage deal and an exchange, and an agreement with Hamas that we see them free Israeli and other hostages potentially, that it will get over the line and that's what they're looking to now.

And that's important because these families have heard the word imminent before and have heard reports and rumors that something is about to happen. But if you speak with them, they believe there's something far more tangible here, something far more palpable and real, even if they haven't gotten an official word from the government at this point.

Now, these three votes and meetings that are expected tonight are not the end of the process. There is then a 24-hour window in which there can be appeals that the Supreme Court filed against this, that too will take its time as that runs its course. But from the indications we're seeing here, the government, Netanyahu feeling confident as this moves forward through the evening, and we will certainly keep you posted, Dana, as it moves into the subsequent meetings.

BASH: OK. So, that's the process, which is important. The politics there, obviously, are critically important. And now let's talk about the people. The people who are being held. Do we know anything about the condition of these hostages, all of them, but even specifically, the women and children on that list of 50 who were hopefully going to be released?

LIEBERMAN: The answer is we simply don't -- we know so little about the nearly 240 hostages held in Gaza. And that has been an incredible source of frustration. In fact, a little information we do know has only come out from the Israeli military when it says it has found the bodies of two Israeli hostages killed in Gaza and brought them out.

There were several hostages released very early on, but that was weeks ago, if not more than a month ago, in terms of who is coming out the 50 women and children. We know at this point, almost nothing except that little bit.

On the flip side of that, we also don't know anything about the 150 Palestinian women and children who are set to be released as part of this exchange. So, in terms of the details of how this plays out, really the nitty gritty of this, we are still waiting for that. And of course, the families of the hostages are still waiting to find out if their loved ones are on that list.

BASH: Oren, thank you so much for that reporting. And this potential breakthrough in this hostage negotiations come a day after the families of hostages met in Israel with that war cabinet, their emotional calls to bring the hostages home. That's what happened in those meetings. Now we heard similar motion from one of the family members of a young girl that MJ was talking about, Abigail Edan. She is three years old. She's being held in Gaza. This is her great aunt, speaking to CNN this morning.


LIZ HIRSH NAFTALI, GREAT AUNT OF 3-YEAR-OLD HOSTAGE ABIGAIL EDAN: These people have been in the dark for 45 days. Abigail is a beautiful child who wants to run around and play soccer with her older brother and sister. And she hasn't been able to run around in 45 days. I don't know where she is. We don't know. She should be home with her family and with their sister and brother. And she isn't right now. I'm not a politician. I'm not a diplomat. I will believe it when I see them walk out to be driven out and they are free.


BASH: Let's talk more about the impact of the potential deal. I want to bring in our panel, Avi Mayer the Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Post, Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, and CNN's Alex Marquardt.

Avi, I want to start with you. In Israel, we've just heard a lot of understandable emotion from Abigail Edan, and I am sure you are hearing something similar from so many people who are in Israel waiting to hear from the government about the fate of their loved ones. What is your latest reporting? Let's just start with what we heard from Oren, on whether or not the Israeli government is going to approve this deal to allow at least those 50 to come home.


AVI MAYER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, JERUSALEM POST: Well, Dana, as your correspondents said, there is some opposition within the government particularly concerned about what this deal might look like. What cost Israel might have to pay in order to release these hostages. We know that in the past terrorists who had been released from Israeli prisons have returned to the circle of terrorists, some of them in fact, were responsible for the atrocities on October 7.

So, there is some concern within Israel, and particularly within the government that that might happen again. There's also concern that Hamas might use those four or five days to regroup and rearm and prepare for the continuation of its assault against Israel.

Nevertheless, I think it is fairly clear that this will pass the cabinet. We will see of course, whether there will be appeals the Supreme Court, I expected those will likely fail in this deal, at least from Israel's part will indeed go through.

BASH: Alex, take us inside more of your reporting. You, along with our colleagues have been so upfront on this appropriately cautious, but really seems the bullseye on what is happening around the contours of this deal, could not be more complicated when it comes to all of the factors that have to go into this, including what Avi was just talking about, which is convincing the Israeli people that a pause for days on fighting, which the IDF has been telling them and telling the world is not possible because it would allow Hamas to reconstitute, is OK, because they need to get these hostages home.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Israel has been clear from the beginning, Dana, that if there were to be a pause, then Hamas would have to deliver, that there would have to be a large group of hostages released. And now, we are told that the agreement is that it would be 50 hostages over the course of four to five days, so around 10 to a dozen per day.

I think one of the questions that we really have now is what does the situation look like beyond that? We're told there is a possibility that more hostages could be released in the subsequent days, if all goes well, that the pause could be extended. You could see several dozen more perhaps who could be released.

We've gotten a good sense of what this agreement looks like. And I think the onus right now is really on Israel to approve it from what I understand Hamas, for their part has agreed to those terms. Of course, this was mediated by Qatar and by the United States.

But beyond the terms that we understand, what is the conflict going to look like after that -- after six or seven days? Is Israel going to just go back to fighting with Hamas? Is that pause going to end? We have major questions about the conditions that these prisoners are in. We understand that these 50, at least are alive. That's an assurance from Hamas. So, take that with a major grain of salt.

But we don't know what the remaining 190 or what condition they are in. And I think that just goes to the point that even if there is this pause, and even if this large group of women and children is released, you're still going to have at least 80 percent of the prisoners who are still being held by Hamas. And then the fighting could pick up once again.

BASH: Yes. And Susan Glasser, you know, this is Inside Politics. So, let's look at the political reality on the ground as we speak in Israel. There are protests going on outside the Knesset of people demanding that the hostages are released, that these negotiations be completed, and that the war cabinet approves what is going on right now. I mean, that is very, very real, very raw.

SUSAN GLASSER, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, that's right. There's pressures from both sides. There's the pressure from the families who want the hostages released from some of Netanyahu's right-wing coalition partners on the opposite side. And he underscores that this is a very unusual situation where the people of Israel have rallied around the cause of this war ever since October 7, but they have not rallied around their leader Netanyahu. And that's a very unusual situation.

He is a very weakened figure politically. So, one question is, you know, what could happen? Is it possible even that his government could unravel in the course of the war? I think that remains a question mark. Netanyahu is extremely unpopular across a broad swath of Israeli population, which blames him in some ways for the attack and the things that led up to it. And I think that that's a reality that we'll see a little bit more clearly over the next 24 to 48 hours, whether this takes an additional political toll on an already weakened wartime leader of Israel.

BASH: Such good points. Thank you so much to all of you. We're going to, of course, stay on top of this breaking news ahead. We're going to take a closer look at what the potential hostage deal means, here in the U.S. for President Biden and the White House.



BASH: Welcome back to Inside Politics. I want to bring our political panel in to break down this discussion as we are waiting for what we are told could be an imminent hostage deal. Joining me now is PBS NewsHour's Laura Barron-Lopez and The Atlantic's Frank Foer.

And Frank, you wrote a biography of President Biden. You understand him extremely well based on all of your terrific reporting. This is such an interesting moment for him because he by all accounts is so confident in his dedication to supporting Israel and not heating to the calls by -- the growing calls by many in his party for a ceasefire but it's taking a toll politically on him.


FRANKLIN FOER, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Yes. I mean, I think back to the pullout from Afghanistan, which was a similar sort of moment where in foreign policy to remain -- where Biden is supremely self- confident about his ability to navigate a difficult position, and in that instance he had the weight of conventional wisdom, bearing down on him, telling him that he was botching things and doing things wrong, and he refused to cave or back or -- in any sort of way pander to that opinion.

I think something similar is happening here. And I think to potentially his credit, it belies some of the criticism that he's a disengaged old guy with his staff pulling all the strings because there have been reported incidences of him being intention with members of his staff where they've wanted him to hedge or back down somewhat and he's refused to do so.

BASH: Disengaged, but I think on this issue -- a lot of issues, people would be wrong to say that he's disengaged -- maybe disinterested in the growing opposition, maybe that's OK. OK, disinterested maybe is the wrong word. But pushing back on and keeping his focus is maybe the better way to describe it.

And when I talk about growing opposition, I'm talking about a poll like this. The question from the latest NBC poll was his handling of the Israel Hamas war. This is all registered voters 56 percent disapprove only 34 percent disapprove. He's well aware of that.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He is. I mean, his administration is well aware. The campaign is well aware, even though he hasn't really fully gone out there to campaign in earnest (ph), yet he won't until early next year. But despite that, everyone around him, the administration officials say look, we're not governing by polls. And this is something to Franklin's point that President Biden is leading from the top on this. He very much -- this is a position he holds dearly in terms of strong support for Israel, them having the right to defend themselves.

And he's not going to change that position. I mean, one thing that I've known -- not having covered President Biden as long as Frank, but still quite a while he doesn't tend to go back on his decisions. Once he's made a decision, he tends to stick with it.

And I think on this one he's going to too, but young voters in particular, if you break down those polls further are not happy with the president's position on this specific war. They want to see him talk more about the toll on civilians in Gaza, they of course, want a ceasefire and that's not something that he supports.

BASH: Yes. And we're going to hear some more about that from the ground. John King did a great piece on exactly that. He'll be later in the show. On this sort of growing pressure -- some opposition but growing pressure, and it's kind of bumping up subtly, but if you take it in totality, it's a lot. Just one example, the letter that came out. Democrats signed a letter for more aid, humanitarian aid for Gaza, 13 of his fellow Democratic senators. You see them all there.

FOER: I think the other part of this is, so we talked about the emotional connection that Biden feels with Israel. And interestingly, I think part of the generational divide is when Biden was a younger person. Zionism and liberalism were much more deeply interconnected. And there was a sense that Israel was an underdog nation, and he grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust, so that's very much part of the way that he thinks about everything.

But the second thing is, is that Biden also has a strategy for how he will handle Netanyahu and the Israelis. And he's not going to -- he believes in that strategy because he believes that will ultimately be the most effective way to help both Israel accomplishes its aims, but also to limit the conflict. And I don't think that criticism or poll numbers are going to cause him to be dislodged from that strategy.

BARRON-LOPEZ: I think, Fed, other thing that the -- as they get closer to fully campaigning that they're going to try to do is to show the alternative, right, show what former President Trump is saying, which is that he would institute or extend .The Muslim ban, which he tried to institute during his first term that he would actually bar refugees from Gaza coming into the United States. And we're going to see President Biden draw that contrast.

BASH: To put it bluntly, you don't like me, wait for the other guy to get in here. Yes. Interesting. Thank you so much to both of you. Thank you for your insights. And I mentioned that Franklin Foer has a great book on the president, the last politician inside Joe Biden's White House and struggle for America's future. It's really great. I encourage you to read it. We continue our breaking news coverage on the question of when, if, but also when that deal to release about 50 hostages could come out -- it could be as soon as this afternoon eastern time. We are going to speak to a former Israeli national security adviser about out these developments after a short break.



BASH: More on the breaking news. At this moment, Israel's war cabinet is deciding whether to approve a deal to release some of the 237 hostages kidnapped by Hamas during the brutal terror attack in Israel in October. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded optimistic just moments before going into the meeting.