Hamas hostage's niece worries a deal isn't in Netanyahu's "political interest"

As reports of Israel’s new cease-fire proposal  renew hopes for the release of hostages still being held by Hamas, the niece of a U.S.-Israeli captive said that while she believes a deal can be reached, her family is concerned that finalizing any sort of peace agreement may not serve Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political agenda. 

President Biden spoke with Netanyahu on Sunday, the White House confirmed to CBS News.

“I do think a deal can be reached. I mean, we know that. A deal was reached in November … so we know that it’s possible,” Hanna Siegel said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”  She told moderator Margaret Brennan that the United States “plays a critical role” in the negotiation process, as it did during the initial cease-fire, but acknowledged that “ultimately, this is a negotiation between Hamas and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel.”

And one of the things that really worries my family, and worries me, is that it’s arguably not in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political interest to close a deal,” Siegel said. 

Her uncle, Keith Siegel, was among those taken hostage by Hamas when the group’s militant wing attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israeli authorities have said 250 people were captured and subsequently hidden away in the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu declared war on Hamas, pausing only for a temporary weeklong cease-fire brokered in November, during which more than 100 hostages — primarily women and children — were freed alongside about 240 Palestinians previously detained in Israeli prisons. 

Hanna Siegel on “Face the Nation,” April 28, 2024.

CBS News

Netanyahu has said that freeing the remaining hostages is one of his three main objectives in Gaza. He reiterated those points on “Face the Nation” in February, with the other two being to “destroy Hamas” and to “ensure that Gaza does not pose a threat to Israel in the future.” 

“Unless we have total victory, we can’t have peace,” Netanyahu said at the time. As the war has drawn on, some of the hostages’ family members have accused Israeli leaders, including the prime minister and his unprecedented far-right cabinet, of forgoing a deal that could save them for political reasons.

“There is a lot swirling in the political landscape in Israel,” Siegel said Sunday. “We’re at 205 days. There have been deals on the table. And they’ve proven elusive. And I worry that that is because of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“So, I think that now is the moment. I have faith that we can do a deal now. But I also think that if that isn’t possible, then the Biden administration should think about what they can do directly to bring our American citizens home.

Keith Siegel’s wife, Aviva Siegel, was one of the hostages that Hamas freed during that cease-fire. There had been no word about him for months, his family said, until he appeared in undated video footage released Saturday by Hamas on the group’s social media channel, which is often used to publish propaganda. Siegel was seen in the video with another hostage, identified as Omri Miran by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, several days after similar footage emerged of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, another Israeli-American being held hostage. Siegel, who is 64, holds American and Israeli citizenship. 

As of April 24, there were five people who are American citizens who are unaccounted for and presumed to be held alive s in Gaza, a U.S. official confirmed to CBS News. The remains of three other U.S. citizens are believed to be in the possession of Hamas. A U.S. official told CBS News that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was reviewing the latest proof of life video after its release on Saturday. 

Hanna Siegel told Brennan on Sunday that the timing of the propaganda videos’ release could potentially be a sign that Hamas is open to reaching a deal with Israel.

“You know, for us, this is the moment,” she said. “I do think that these two videos are a signal from Hamas that they are ready to make a deal and a reminder that there are American citizens being held, including Keith.”

Despite mounting calls from civilians to prioritize the remaining hostages’ safe return, and pledges from Mr. Biden that his administration “will not rest” until that happens, attempts to reach another cease-fire deal have fallen apart since Israel ended the provisional truce last fall. Hamas has pushed for a prolonged break in fighting and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza in exchange for the release of around 100 people still believed to be alive in captivity, and the remains of around 30 others. Israel has repeatedly rejected Hamas’ demands and said it will continue the offensive with the goal of destroying the group. 

But senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayva said Saturday that they were evaluating a new cease-fire proposal from Israel and “upon completion of its study, it will submit a response,” the Associated Press reported. The official did not share details about the proposal but said that it came in response to a proposal from Hamas two weeks ago, according to the AP. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is traveling to the region on Sunday to discuss a potential cease-fire and a hostage agreement. Although Hanna Siegel said that she “has faith that we can do a deal now,” she also called on the Biden administration “to think about what they can do directly to bring our American citizens home” if negotiations fail again.

“What I know is that the Biden administration has shown unwavering and relentless commitment to my family and the families of all of the hostages,” she said. “And I know that it is their priority to bring all hostages, including the Americans, home. And so I know that they are doing absolutely everything that they can.”

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