Nov 22, 2023

The Israel-Hamas hostage deal.

The Israel-Hamas hostage deal.
Palestinians inspect the damage after an Israeli strike on a house in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

A debate over what the deal means and who it is good for.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

50 Israeli hostages are expected to come home in a deal Israel struck with Hamas. Plus, a reader question about income derived from taxes.

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Quick hits.

  1. OpenAI, the developer of ChatGPT, announced late Tuesday night that it had reached a deal for Sam Altman to return as CEO after Altman was ousted by the board last week. (The reversal)
  2. The U.S. carried out several airstrikes in Iraq for just the third time since January 2020 after a group of Iran-backed militants attacked U.S. troops. (The strikes)
  3. Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Bill Johnson (R-OH) announced they were retiring from Congress. (The retirements)
  4. North Korea said it successfully launched its first military satellite into orbit on its third attempt. (The launch)
  5. X, formerly known as Twitter, sued liberal advocacy group Media Matters over its report that ads on the platform were appearing next to antisemitic content. (The lawsuit)

Today's topic.

The Israel-Hamas hostage deal. Early Wednesday, Israel and Hamas agreed to a hostage deal and a four-day pause in fighting. It is the first ceasefire since Hamas's attack on Israel October 7 that sparked six weeks of air and ground assaults in the Gaza Strip.

As part of the deal, at least 50 women and children from the estimated 240 people being held hostage in Gaza will be released, and the pause in fighting will be extended an extra day for every 10 hostages Hamas releases. The 50 released hostages include three Americans (two women and a girl), according to a Biden official. Hamas says the deal will include the release of 150 Palestinian women and teenagers from Israeli prisons. Some of those prisoners are being held without charges, while others have been charged or convicted of serious crimes. Further, around 300 aid trucks will be allowed to enter Gaza each day during the ceasefire. 

Qatar, the country mediating the deal, said the humanitarian pause will begin 24 hours after the agreement was struck. Families in Israel will also be given time to challenge the prisoner release, according to Israeli officials. Of the 240 hostages taken on October 7, four hostages, including two Americans, have already been released by Hamas in pairs. A fifth hostage was rescued, and two other hostages have been found dead. 

An estimated 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s initial attack, according to Israeli officials. Since Israel's bombardment of Gaza began, an estimated 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry, including at least 4,600 children. The ministry does not record whether the dead are militants or civilians, nor does it include people who are stuck under rubble or are not brought to hospitals, leading many international aid groups to believe the numbers are an undercount of the death toll (more information here). One Gaza health official says they have lost the ability to count the dead because of the collapse of the health system. An estimated 1.5 million Gazans are internally displaced.

Israeli soldiers have taken over most of northern Gaza, pushing civilians into the south. Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City has become a main target of the ground invasion in the north, and Israeli officials have been releasing evidence and inviting journalists to come see tunnels built near and underneath the hospital that it says belong to Hamas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to pledge an end to the war only once Hamas is destroyed, and has emphasized that it embeds itself in civilian infrastructure, necessitating combat in densely populated areas.

Now, Israel is believed to be pushing south, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled in the last few weeks. Israel recently dropped leaflets in Khan Younis, the largest city in the south, telling civilians to move west before they shell the area. Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official told Reuters that Israel has no choice but to push south if it wants to vanquish Hamas. As Israeli soldiers advance, they necessarily have to control the territory behind them, leading many to believe a full re-occupation of Gaza is coming despite Israeli officials denying that is their plan.

Today, we're going to break down some reactions to the hostage deal and the latest from the conflict, sharing views from the left and right. Then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is mixed in its reaction to the deal, with many saying it underscores the moral quandary at the heart of the conflict.
  • Some say Hamas needs the ceasefire more than Israel as its fighters have been overwhelmed by the IDF.
  • Others oppose the deal and call it a win for Hamas.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said the deal is a "great relief to the innocents and their families."

"Israeli leaders believe the trade is worth it, and it’s not our place to second-guess their judgment. In exchange for returning Israeli children and women, 12 or 13 a day, Hamas is set to receive a four-day pause in Israeli military operations and the release of about 150 of its under-18 and female operatives from Israeli prisons. During the cease-fire, Israel will allow more fuel and aid into Gaza. The pause might also extend longer if Hamas gives up more hostages, 10 for each additional day," the board said. "The deal again shows the moral gulf between the two sides."

"Hamas kidnapped Israeli children as young as nine months to use as hostages and spring its jihadists who have been arrested or convicted in a fair trial for their crimes. Israel takes military risks to save its citizens. Hamas risks Palestinian civilians to save itself. Even as Israelis rejoice for the women and children who will return home, they know Hamas is rejoicing too. Its war crimes have been rewarded. It will steal fuel from its own people to power its terror tunnels. Its shattered northern Gaza brigades will use the cease-fire to regroup, escape from weak positions and set more ambushes for Israeli troops."

In The Spectator, Limor Simhony Philpott wrote about “why Hamas agreed to a ceasefire.”

“When the war started, the Israeli government prioritized military accomplishments against Hamas over negotiating the release of hostages. Hamas, too, was unwilling to negotiate in the early days of the conflict.” Two things have changed, Philpott said. “The first is that Hamas has struggled to fight the Israeli Defense Forces. The IDF has been targeting Hamas’s infrastructure, tunnels, weapons caches and individuals from the ground, air and sea. Despite launching a successful surprise attack on October 7, Hamas’s capabilities are no match for the IDF.”

Second, “on the Israeli side, priorities have reversed in the past few days; hostages now come first — destroying Hamas comes second. In the past two weeks the families of the hostages and their supporters have significantly increased their pressure on the government. Large demonstrations and marches were held across the country. Their campaign has received a lot of public sympathy and support and placed political pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu to negotiate with Hamas. It also became clear that releasing the hostages by military means — and alive — is a near-impossible task.“

In Townhall, Matt Vespa criticized “this Israel-Hamas hostage deal.”

“I don’t like this deal. It was probably agreed upon after intense international pressure, which is tragic, as it shows scores of world leaders cannot identify pure evil. Hamas is a terrorist organization with the backing of most Palestinian civilians. The Gaza Strip is a terrorist factory — there should be no deal until every Hamas dog is put down,” Vespa wrote. “Shin Bet and Mossad better have a plan to kill the terrorists that are about to be released into the wild. The next question regarding this agreement is obvious: how long will it take Hamas to break it?”

“We probably should have expected this since the Israeli ground operation to remove Hamas, which has entrenched itself in Gazan sociopolitical life for 17 years, would take time. The images of bombed-out cities, death, and destruction have infuriated pro-terrorist leftists, who dominate cultural bastions of power and influence. Some pause agreement lasting days was going to happen, even though Israel has enacted hours-long ones to allow civilians to reach safety out of Gaza war zones. Hamas gets a breather; therefore, this deal is a win for them.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left is hopeful the deal will mark the start of additional diplomatic breakthroughs in the conflict. 
  • Some worry the ceasefire will be difficult to maintain given the two sides’ dueling motivations. 
  • Others say that despite the deal, both sides need to be wary of divisive rhetoric that could undermine long-term peace prospects. 

In The Washington Post, David Ignaitus said this deal could "gradually expand to a broader de-escalation of the nightmare conflict."

“The basic idea driving the hostage-release agreement, approved by Israel’s cabinet early Wednesday in Jerusalem, is ‘more for more,’ a formula that’s well known in arms-control negotiations,” Ignatius said. “If Hamas delivers more hostages, Israel would be willing to extend the pause, a senior Israeli official told me. There is no cap on how long Israel might halt its Gaza operations, he said, as Israel seeks eventual release of all captives, including those in the military.”

“The deal — brokered by Qatar’s prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani — is a case study in how diplomatic mediation works,” Ignatius said. “The channel was in part an intelligence operation, managed quietly by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad. Qatar, though blasted by some Israelis for sheltering Hamas terrorists, proved an indispensable intermediary. Over time, both Israel and Hamas came to trust the reliability of the messenger. A senior Biden administration official also credited Egypt for helping make the deal work.”

In Bloomberg, Marc Champion explored “what a truce in Gaza means for the war.”

“For the alleviation of suffering among Gaza’s civilian population, [the deal] could not be more welcome or necessary. But for those doing the fighting, a pause will matter little beyond providing both sides with an opportunity to regroup,” Champion said. “The IDF’s task is to eliminate Hamas’ military capabilities, and that job is far from complete, making it unlikely that Israel would allow the pause to extend to a more permanent truce. Hamas might like that to happen, but assuming it doesn’t, a short pause hardly advances its goal of extending the war and its attendant suffering until either Hezbollah, Iran or the international community intervenes.”

“Israel, meanwhile, could demonstrate its goal is not collective punishment, by making room for the compromises that would be needed for such a surrender and for a longer-term arrangement in Gaza other than re-occupation.” The ceasefire could also “get what it’s doing on the ground in line with a strategic plan — currently missing — for what happens afterward. But don’t hold your breath, given the maximalist goals on both sides. Even assuming this halt in hostilities can last its intended duration, expect more war.”

In Arab News, Mohamed Chebaro argued “hateful rhetoric will remain a threat to hopes of peace.”

“References by Israeli officials, journalists and influencers have crossed a Rubicon that threatens to make impossible any future climbdown that would allow the two peoples to coexist… ‘We are fighting human animals,’ said Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. ‘We are fighting Nazis,’ said Naftali Bennett, the former prime minister. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew on the Bible to remind of ancient threats to the ‘Israelites,’ when they faced calls to exterminate ‘men, women and infants.’ Hamas’ narrative and rhetoric has been no better, as for years it has called for Israel to be wiped out and to ‘throw Israelis into the sea,’ even justifying its violence, though this never reflected the mindset of all Palestinians.”

“On one side, a right-wing and increasingly ultrareligious Israel talks of erasing the people of Gaza, the nuclear annihilation of the Strip and even ethnic cleansing. This is met with an equally hateful narrative from Hamas that celebrates the barbaric acts its militants carried out last month,” Chebaro wrote. “One can only hope, therefore, that the initial truce and hostage exchange will instigate a reimagining of the peace process… But the damage caused by the inciteful rhetoric in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack is likely to plague both peoples for the foreseeable future.”

My take.

  • It is a brief reprieve and a glimmer of hope, but it’s hard to be optimistic.
  • The destruction in Gaza is reaching incomprehensible levels, and it feels as if the peace process could be ruined for decades.
  • All of my worst-case-scenario fears from early October are coming to fruition.

This deal is a good step.

Historically speaking, this conflict has been unpredictable. There have been five wars between Israelis and Palestinians in 15 years, and the hostage swaps, peace deals, state-oriented solutions, ceasefires, advances and retreats of certain causes that have happened over that time unfolded in ways that weren't obvious in the moment, or turned in ways people weren't expecting. For the first time since Hamas's attack, the door to a longer, more sustainable pause just cracked open. More than anything else that is what this deal represents to me: Two sides capable of negotiating with each other and each getting something they want out of doing so. I am so glad these first 50 hostages taken from Israel are going home and that there’s a pause in the fighting for Palestinian civilians, however brief. 

And that's about the most hopeful outlook I can muster right now.

Since Hamas's attack, I've articulated two important points. First, Israel had no good options, and I didn't see any feasible path forward that made me comfortable. Second, my personal worst-case scenario was mass civilian death, a drawn-out war, and backsliding away from any kind of long-term solution.

Given the bad option Israel chose — rooting out Hamas through a full military invasion — every single one of those fears is now coming true.

Roughly one in every 200 Gazans is now dead, which is proportional to about 1.65 million Americans. Most of the dead are women, children and newborns. More than two thirds of the entire Gazan population has been displaced, and about 45% of Gaza's housing units have been destroyed. These accounts aren't just from the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry, which I've warned people to be skeptical about, but from international aid groups, journalists, and civilians on the ground in the region. The images from this war are hard to properly capture in words. It is a living nightmare.

That's the civilian toll.

Netanyahu is now using words like "indefinite" to describe the Israeli security presence in Gaza. The idea that Israel would push south would have been incomprehensible a few weeks ago, and now represents the dark reality of where we are. Remember, Israeli forces evacuated hundreds of thousands of civilians from the north to the south. Now they are being squeezed along the Egyptian border. The doubling of the population in the south has already left people fighting over food, water, and health care, all while Egypt refuses to open its borders.

In that environment, Israeli forces now intend to push forward. It is not clear where the civilians are expected to go, and some Israeli officials are conceding that any incursion into the south is going to be more complicated and probably more deadly than what we've witnessed already. Of course, every time the Israeli military advances, it will have to occupy the territory behind it to protect itself. Which means as the IDF pushes forward, we can expect the territory behind it to be re-occupied as it was 20 years ago. This is why many Palestinians believe they are witnessing the beginning of a mass expulsion of Gazans from the region. Of course, Hamas is going to fight back, and probably recruit militants to its cause, killing as many Israeli soldiers as it can throughout the conflict.

That's the drawn-out war.

The last few weeks of fighting in Gaza have also coincided with an increase in clashes in the West Bank, on the other side of Israel, where Hamas is not in power. Attacks by Israeli settlers are increasing, Palestinian towns are being raided, and curfews are being imposed. This, while so much of Gaza is being destroyed, is going to do lasting and generational damage to any potential peace deal.

As I've said before, for every dead innocent civilian in Israel, Gaza, or the West Bank, generational anti-Israel and anti-Palestinian sentiment will be born among those who survive. That's the plain reality of how these conflicts work over time, and every new death carries with it new decades of hatred — eliminating opportunities for appeasement, negotiations, or peace for years to come. Whenever the fighting stops, it will take at least a generation to create a more lasting peace — but the fighting has to stop first.

And those are the backwards steps away from any kind of long-term solution.

All the while, it's worth remembering the morbid realities of the options available to Hamas. From the first few days of this bombardment, Hamas could have recognized that it was outgunned and in over its head. It could have looked at the destruction around them and recognized what its attack and twenty years of its leadership had brought the Gazan people, and that only surrendering or giving up its hostages could stop what was happening. Of course, Hamas never considered such an option — it only promised more attacks. A couple of weeks ago, a Hamas spokesperson made this clear: “I hope that the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all the borders, and that the Arab world will stand with us,” he said

Now, Hamas is once again faced with a choice. If it releases 50 hostages as it has promised, that would leave about 190 in Gaza. It could feasibly stop any Israeli strikes for 19 more days — 10 hostages for each additional day of ceasefire, creating peace for nearly a month. Over that time period, thousands of aid trucks could enter Gaza, and a grace period where Qatar, the United States, Egypt, and Jordan could help negotiate some longer, more lasting stop to the fighting. It’s pollyannaish to expect them to take that route, but despite Israel's overwhelming military advantage and their own obvious moral failings in this conflict, it is also worth noting that Israel is giving Hamas options here; and everyone should judge their choices accordingly.

So that’s where we are: A deal that gives a brief reprieve in an ocean of death, violence, and uncertainty about the future. While it’s good news, it’s hard to muster any long-term optimism.

Your questions, answered.

Q: What percentage of the population derives its income from our taxes? Should include: local, state and federal bureaucrats, school systems, military and welfare recipients. Social Security recipients should not be included.

— Scott from Houston, Texas

Tangle: This question contains a couple of other questions. First, how do you define income? There are a few different ways to do that, but since you’re asking about the government, I think it makes sense to use a government definition. The Social Security Administration defines four different types of income: Earned Income (like wages), Unearned Income (federal or private insurance payments or interest and dividends), In-Kind Income (value of food or shelter), and Deemed Income (shared by a member of your household). So, the number of people receiving “income from our taxes” will include a lot of people who receive partial, supplemental, or temporary payments, often from disability programs or social insurance payments.

That leads me to the second question: Why specifically ignore Social Security? I know it is common advice to not consider Social Security as part of your retirement income, but if you’re making enough income after retirement age — either through wages or capital gains — then that money is taxed. People who receive Social Security benefits have paid into it, so we don’t like to think of it as an entitlement — even though it is — and of the entitlement programs, it’s defined as an insurance program along with unemployment, disability, and Veterans Affairs benefits. So if we don’t count Social Security, should we also not count those?

Let’s assume we can remove everyone receiving government insurance benefits — are you asking about who receives government welfare as their exclusive source of income? That can be hard to tally, so let’s include everyone who receives some welfare payment, and exclude everyone who receives any form of insurance benefit.

So, what are those welfare programs, and how many people receive them? There are five major federal, state, and local welfare programs: Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and General Assistance (GA). All told, 65 million people receive some form of welfare. 

As for people who receive taxpayer money professionally, the government employs 23 million people in non-defense positions. There are another 2 million people employed in defense. Based on the data I could find, that means there are up to 90 million people who receive money from the government, excluding insurance benefits.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

More than 1 million gallons of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico near a pipeline off the coast of Louisiana, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The coastguard first reported seeing the spill Friday, and said Monday that it appears linked to the 67-mile-long Main Pass Oil Gathering company's pipeline system, though it is still unclear where the oil is leaking from. Officials expressed concern about the leak’s impact on endangered and threatened species. "The vehicles will continue to survey the pipeline if weather conditions permit," the Coast Guard said. "The Unified Command is working diligently to determine the source of the release. There have been no reports of injuries or shoreline impacts at this time." CBS News has the story.


  • 46. The number of days since Hamas’s October 7 attack. 
  • 2,222 tons. The amount of medical aid delivered to Gaza via the Rafah Crossing from Egypt since October 7, according to the Egyptian government press office. 
  • 7,730. The number of foreign nationals and dual nationals who have crossed the border from Gaza into Egypt through the Rafah Crossing since October 7.
  • 200,000. The number of residential units destroyed in Gaza since October 7.
  • 153. The number of Palestinians killed in the West Bank since the Israel-Hamas war began, as of November 5.  
  • 29. The number of Israeli soldiers killed since the start of the ground offensive.
  • 80%. The percentage of U.S. voters who say they support Israel in its war with Hamas, according to a new survey from Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll.
  • 55%. The percentage of 18- to 24-year-old voters who say they support Israel in its war with Hamas.
  • 95%. The percentage of voters older than 65 years old who say they support Israel in its war with Hamas.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we covered the new Trump special counsel.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was our Black Friday offer.
  • Extra extra, read all about it: 210 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking what you want to see from a Tangle Sunday edition, with the most common response requesting something light, more optimistic, or fun. "'Dear Abby' style question and answer section with real questions and sarcastic and humorous responses," one respondent said. We're cooking something up!
  • Nothing to do with politics: How to carve your Thanksgiving turkey like a pro.
  • Take the poll. What do you think about the ceasefire agreement? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

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