What could a deal look like?

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: 11 minutes.

Israel and Hamas are negotiating another hostage release. What could a deal look like? Plus, a preview of tomorrow's members-only post and a spicy under the radar story.

See you tomorrow?

In tomorrow's members-only edition, I'm going to be sharing a piece of writing from my trip to Bolivia. Quite a few readers wrote in and asked me to share something in Tangle about the experience, and I am happy to oblige, as it was one of the most interesting and adventurous trips I've ever done. I'm hoping this will be a nice little break from the typical day-to-day drumbeat of the news.

Quick hits.

  1. The United Auto Workers endorsed President Biden for re-election after holding out for months over concerns about his electric vehicles policies. (The endorsement
  2. A Russian military transport plane crashed yesterday killing 74 people, including 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war en route to a prisoner exchange. Ukrainian officials did not confirm the report, and Russia accuses Ukraine of shooting the plane down. (The crash)
  3. Ohio lawmakers overrode Republican Gov. Mike DeWine's veto of legislation banning gender-reassignment surgery, puberty blockers, and hormone therapy for minors. The legislation also bars transgender women from women’s sports. We covered the initial veto here. (The override)
  4. Jon Stewart announced his return to The Daily Show, and will reportedly host Monday night episodes beginning on February 12. (The return)
  5. Obamacare enrollment is surging across the U.S., especially in Republican-led states, hitting new all-time highs. (The numbers)

Today's topic.

The Israel-Hamas hostage negotiations. This week, Israel and Hamas have been exchanging offers in their negotiations to enter a ceasefire and release the remaining hostages being held by Hamas. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected an offer from Hamas to release its remaining 130 hostages in exchange for a permanent end to the war and a total withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza that would leave Hamas in power.

Israel countered with a proposal for a two-month pause in fighting in exchange for releasing the hostages still being held in Gaza. Hamas rejected that offer, though numerous news outlets cited sources who say both sides “broadly agree in principle that an exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners could take place during a month-long ceasefire,” as Reuters reported. As part of their demands, Hamas has requested another prisoner release that includes some of the militants who attacked Israelis on October 7.

Negotiations between the two sides are being mediated by Qatar, Egypt, and the United States. On Wednesday, Brett McGurk, the top U.S. mediator for the Middle East, traveled to the region for more talks.

In the more than three months since the October 7th attack, roughly 90% of Gaza's population has been displaced by Israel's air bombardment and ground invasion, and more than 25,000 Gazans have been killed, according to the Hamas-run health authorities, a number largely affirmed by international groups. The Gaza Health Ministry does not distinguish between civilian and fighter casualties, nor does it distinguish between deaths from Israeli airstrikes and failed launches from inside Gaza. Over the last week, around 151 Gazans were being killed every day, according to an analysis done by the New York Times. That same analysis shows the number of Gazans being killed each day has dropped by nearly half in the last month.

The number of the dead who are civilians also remains unclear as international agencies try to verify the death toll. Gazan officials have suggested that more than 70% of the victims killed have been civilians, including more than 10,000 children. One study by an Israeli sociologist estimated that 61% of those killed by Israel in Gaza are civilians. The IDF says it has killed more than 10,000 members of Hamas since the offensive began, and another 1,000 were killed on October 7.

Tomorrow, the United Nations’ top court is expected to offer a ruling on South Africa’s charges that Israel is committing genocide, which could include interim orders for a ceasefire.

On Monday, Israel suffered its largest single-day death toll in the fighting when 21 Israeli soldiers were killed in an explosion, bringing the total killed to 24 in a single day. Their deaths, and the fact Israelis are still being held hostage inside Gaza, has ramped up domestic pressure on the Israeli war cabinet to get the hostages home. Families of the hostages being held in Gaza stormed the Israeli parliament this week and demanded their release.

A recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that while over half of the country is dissatisfied with the war cabinet, a majority of Israelis oppose releasing thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in exchange for the remaining 130 hostages in the Gaza strip. A poll from mid-December in Gaza found support for Hamas has gone up among Palestinians since the war began, as has support for armed resistance, including attacks like the one on October 7.

Hamas has continued to fire rockets into Israel from Gaza throughout Israel’s invasion, including 25 rockets fired from northern Gaza last week. The conflict has also spread throughout the region, with U.S. and Israeli forces exchanging attacks with the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iran-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.

Today, we're going to take a look at some arguments about how the negotiations in this war should proceed. Rather than break the voices up into "left" and "right," we're going to examine some arguments through "pro-Israel" and "pro-Palestine" voices. Then, my take.

What the pro-Israel side is saying.

  • Israelis and their supporters suggest the government needs to better walk the line of negotiating a deal for the return of the remaining hostages without rewarding Hamas for the Oct. 7 attack.
  • Some call the current proposals unacceptable, saying they would put Israel’s future in jeopardy.
  • Others implore the U.S. and Israeli governments to work more urgently toward the hostages’ return.

The Jerusalem Post editorial board wrote about “balancing bringing hostages home with Hamas's destruction.”

“A premature end to the war will leave a battered Hamas still intact and able to recover and regain its stranglehold on Gaza and the Palestinians it has held hostage since 2006. And that’s something Israel can’t live with,” the board said. “The families of the hostages and their supporters are perfectly justified and correct in their ongoing protests and calls for a ceasefire and a deal to bring their loved ones home. Anyone with a family member who has been cruelly held captive for more than three months should be demanding action and accountability from their government.”

“The problem is a significant breach of trust regarding Netanyahu’s motives among a large population segment,” the board added. “But despite the change at the helm or within the coalition’s makeup, the next prime minister would almost certainly adopt the same policy as Netanyahu: no withdrawal from Gaza and a continuation of fighting until Hamas is no longer in charge. The IDF must be given time to carry out that mission in Gaza. But time is running out regarding the hostages.”

In PJ Media, Rabbi Michael Barclay criticized the potential deal as “an Israel peace plan to destroy Israel.”

“The outline of this plan is pretty simple: 1. Israel would release Palestinian felons currently imprisoned in Israel. 2. Israel would retreat entirely out of Gaza. 3. Israel would leave Hamas as the governing body of Gaza. 4. Hamas will gradually release hostages,” Barclay wrote. “In other words, Hamas’ actions of Oct. 7 of rape, murder, and kidnapping would be justified on every level, and Israel would make itself vulnerable for another Oct. 7. This proposal de facto endorses Hamas’ evils and the depravities they committed.”

“It is sad that the United States would be part of putting forward such a deal, but not surprising given Secretary Of State Antony Blinken’s words and actions over the last few weeks. He seems unaware or in complete denial that this type of proposal would be a prelude to more attacks and horrors perpetrated on Israel,” Barclay said. “We must be honest: this proposal that the U.S. has chosen to support caters to those who want a caliphate theocracy and are committed to the destruction of Israel.”

In USA Today, Ruby Chen called for the U.S. to exert more pressure on Hamas to release the hostages, including his son. 

“Every day has been a living nightmare. I wake up not knowing where my son slept last night, whether he was given any food or water, whether he’s been injured. We don’t even know if he is alive,” Chen wrote. “Now, as we are passed the 100-day mark, we are in shock. Our loved ones are U.S. citizens, backed by the most powerful superpower on the planet, and we are at almost the same place we were when we started this nightmare.”

“Every day my son doesn’t come home is a day where I have failed. But even more so, every day the hostages are stuck underground without enough oxygen, food or water is a day all our political leaders — from President Biden to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — have failed,” Chen said. “The United States is the richest and most powerful nation in the world, with immense financial, military and political leverage. How is it that other countries, such as Russia and Thailand, have secured the release of their citizens while only four Americans have been freed to date?”

What the pro-Palestinian side is saying.

  • Palestinians and supporters of a ceasefire think Israel must make sacrifices to bring the hostages home and stop the violence in Gaza.
  • Some say Hamas has long tried to negotiate with Israel for peace but their offers are always rebuffed.
  • Others say Palestinians in Gaza should call for the release of Israeli hostages. 

In Arab News, Dania Koleilat Khatib argued “the time is right for Israel to negotiate.”

“Israel does not seem to have any plan. It is simply bombing and bombing. It is behaving like a gambler who keeps losing but keeps on doubling down, hoping they will win it all back at some point in time. Israel keeps on losing. It is losing its soldiers. It is losing social cohesion, as the hostages’ families are angry that the government is prioritizing its own survival over getting their loved ones back home. It is losing its international standing,” Khatib said. “Is it not time to listen? Is it not time to be realistic?”

“Israel should withdraw from the Strip, a prisoner exchange should take place, a multinational force should take control of Gaza and a government of technocrats should be responsible for the Strip’s civilian administration. If a force that is viewed as legitimate takes control of Gaza and if basic services are provided, then this will help dry out the social incubator that is fueling Hamas,” Khatib wrote. “Unfortunately, Netanyahu is still delusional. He thinks he has room to maneuver. But he does not. Now is the time to negotiate.”

In Al Jazeera, Zena Al Tahhan said Netanyahu’s refusal to accept the hostage deal is “the latest in a long history of Hamas proposals for long-term truces that Israel has rejected.”

“In 2017, Hamas revised its original 1988 charter to recognise, in effect, a two-state solution — and therefore the existence of Israel as a legitimate entity. This, even as Israel insists it can no longer allow Hamas to exist, and as Israeli politicians, led by Netanyahu, have ruled out a two-state solution,” Al Tahhan wrote. “A look into the history of Hamas — among Palestine’s most popular resistance fronts — suggests that its political leadership has, over the years, proposed numerous long-term truces or ceasefires to Israel in exchange for the realisation of a sovereign independent Palestinian state.”

“After Hamas won the 2006 elections in Gaza, its leader Haniyeh said the group accepted a state on the 1967 borders and all the decisions taken by the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), but there were no takers,” Al Tahhan said. “Hamas’s offers were repeatedly dismissed by Israel and ignored by its Western allies, including the United States, despite Washington’s claims of playing the role of an ‘honest broker’ in the conflict.”

In Newsweek, Hamza Howidy, from Gaza City, wrote “my fellow Gazans: we must demand the release of the Israeli hostages.”

"If we don't speak out about the atrocities Hamas has committed, if we don't speak up on behalf of the Israeli hostages, we are allowing Hamas to paint the entire population of Gaza as a group of terrorists who celebrated Hamas's crimes. If we don't speak up, Hamas is able to falsely portray us as complicit, as cheering on their filmed atrocities,” Howidy said. “Don't ignore Hamas' Israeli hostages like you ignored Hamas' Palestinian hostages. And don't forget that Gaza is still full of innocent Hamas hostages who are Palestinians. When far-Right Israeli politicians call for collectively punishing the entire population of Gaza for Hamas's actions, they are proving Hamas right.

“I pray and call for the release of all hostages, as I hope for my city to be free from terrorism. I beg the international community to recognize the plight of the Israeli hostages, and I beg the Israelis to recognize that their kidnapped brothers and sisters have joined us Palestinians in being Hamas's victims. We should all join in the calls for the IDF to stop its bombardment of areas crowded with civilians—and call for the immediate release of the hostages taken by Hamas.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • Hostage and prisoner exchanges are always some of the hardest things to cover.
  • Hamas has agency here, and more people should be talking about it.
  • If you look at Israel's stated goals, I think this military operation has been a complete failure, and it's time to change course and get a deal.

Over the last few years we've had to cover a number of different prisoner exchanges — from Brittney Griner to the Iran prisoner swap all the way to the first exchange in this war. In each of those issues I've said something along the lines of "I don't envy the position of the leaders who are responsible for making these choices."

In a vacuum, it is extraordinarily complicated to put a value on the freedom of your own citizens vs. the freedom of another country's citizens. It is made far more complicated when the hostages are chess pieces in a war, or the prisoners to be exchanged recently committed acts of violence against your people, or the the actors on the other side don't seem trustworthy. All these factors are present here.

And of the exchanges we've looked at, this one is by far the most complicated. Yet it isn't actually hard for me to draw up my ideal scenario:

Hamas looks around at the devastation its October 7th attack has brought on its people and decides it made a huge miscalculation. It looks at the roughly 10,000 dead of its own fighters and decides its war against a far superior military adversary is feckless. It decides to release all the prisoners and cede control of the strip to an international coalition, knowing its stated goal of a Palestinian state and freedom for Gazans is impossible with it in control. That new coalition allows Israel to withdraw from its ground invasion and cease its bombing campaign. Resources flood into Gaza for the civilians who just lost their family members, homes, and way of life. As the Gazan rebuild begins, Netanyahu is removed from power for his failure to lead and protect Israel on nearly every level, and the last four months serve as a launching point for a new peace process with fresh vigor to find a long-term, non-violent solution to this conflict.

It’s easy to root for that. What's far more difficult is imagining a realistic way any of that happens.

The negotiations here highlight something I've mentioned in past writing but doesn't get enough attention: Hamas has choices, too. I'm glad to see the many Palestinian voices who continue to speak up about the fact that Hamas's primary victims are the Palestinian people and the Gazans living under their rule. Even before October 7th, Hamas could have looked around at what nearly 20 years of its leadership had wrought on the Gaza Strip and decided it was time for some new elections.

Post-October 7th, that's even more true. They say they want peace, and they have an offer to get it: Let the hostages go. Instead, even after thousands of Palestinians prisoners have been released and after tens of thousands of their own people have been killed, they push for the most objectionable and non-starter terms possible — Israel could never tolerate releasing the very same militants who launched the attacks on October 7th.

At the same time, it seems impossible for Israel to ignore the failures of its own military campaign. After Hamas committed the atrocities of October 7th, there was a wide range of options on the board. Though I acknowledged that none of them were good, recent history illustrates that the choices Israel did not make were likely better. A great example comes from 2008, when 10 Pakistani terrorists killed over 174 people in India and injured more than 300 in a series of attacks on hotels, cafes, and train stations. 

Public outrage in India demanded the government respond with force. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government deliberated and determined that attacking terrorist camps on Pakistani territory risked more death, more destabilization, and more terrorism. Instead, the government exercised restraint. 16 years later, Foreign Affairs summarizes what that decision got them:

Instead, New Delhi responded to the terrorist atrocity in Mumbai through diplomatic and covert channels. In public, the country chose restraint, not revenge. That decision brought India international support, prevented a potentially catastrophic war, minimized civilian casualties, and arguably prevented more terrorism. At least so far, India has not experienced another Pakistani-backed attack with mass casualties on Indian soil.

Of course, the India-Pakistan tension and the Israeli-Palestinian tension are not one-to-one comparisons, but the tactical difference is instructive. Between what Benjamin Netanyahu chose and what Manmohan Singh chose were a wide range of possibilities. Israel picked a massive show of force that was intended to dismantle Hamas and create deterrence. In other words: Make the response so big and bad that nobody dares attack Israel again.

The results of this campaign, however, have been the opposite, hardening opposition against Israel in Gaza and drawing condemnation from the global community. Thousands of Hamas fighters have died, and there's no doubt that Israel is doing serious damage to Hamas infrastructure in Gaza. But thousands more civilians have died, too. Gaza is now in shambles — with civilian infrastructure across the country destroyed, guaranteeing long-term chaos and the necessity for international aid in the strip. Support for Hamas across the Palestinian territories is either rising notably or skyrocketing, depending on the poll. Israel's image globally is deteriorating fast, and it now faces charges of genocide in an international court. Rather than deter its enemies, the war has emboldened them, with attacks on Israeli and U.S. troops escalating across the region. The Houthis, Hezbollah, Iran, the U.S., and proxies throughout the Middle East are now involved. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel, demonstrating as clearly as possible that this offensive has not deterred them. And on top of all that, hundreds of Israeli soldiers have died in the fighting.

To me, Israelis appear quite obviously less safe today than they were on October 8th.

All of that should be enough motivation to change course, and I hope the Israeli government does. Whether it requires a months-long ceasefire or a total withdrawal or a pause in fighting to get the hostages home, I think Israel should negotiate a deal. From a domestic perspective, bringing home the remaining hostages safely would be a massive, unifying victory for Israel — a light in the darkness. Internationally, it would emphasize what Hamas has done and the hostages it held and the choices it had all along, and it would help remind the global community about the organization Israel is dealing with.

In Gaza, the pause in fighting would give a real opportunity for peace. The situation on the ground continues to be beyond words. Every day that Palestinians have to experience more death and destruction and horror is another day they'll be pushed further toward adopting the violent resistance Hamas wants that population committed to.

According to the IDF, Hamas has already taken massive losses, both in battleground casualties and in the range of their infrastructure that has been destroyed. The message has been sufficiently sent, and every day that Israel continues its war only isolates them further. 

Israel’s only red line should be releasing any Hamas militants who participated in the attack on October 7th, but it should otherwise be pursuing all options. Any deal to stop this spate of bombing and fighting on the ground (something Israel should be focused on doing at this point anyway, given its multi-dimensional failures) and to get the remaining hostages home alive seems like a win-win from where I'm sitting.

Your questions, answered.

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Under the radar.

Arizona's GOP chair Jeff DeWit resigned on Wednesday after a recording surfaced in which he offered Kari Lake a job from "very powerful people" in exchange for her staying out of the 2024 Senate race. Lake, a controversial candidate who is expected to glide to the Republican nomination, is viewed by many in the Republican Party as a weak general election candidate. She apparently recorded a conversation she had with DeWit about her options. DeWit said the recording was selectively edited and that it was not an act of bribery or coercion, but a transparent conversation intended to offer perspective on her options. He accused Lake of orchestrating the conversation to hurt him and take control of the party. Axios has the story.


  • 25. The number of hostages taken by Hamas who have died in captivity, according to Israel. 
  • 65%. The percentage of Israeli Jews who say continuing the intensive fighting in Gaza and using IDF forces to free the hostages is the best way to secure the hostages’ release, according to a December 2023 poll from The Israel Democracy Institute. 
  • 16%. The percentage of Israeli Jews who say releasing all Palestinian prisoners is the best way to secure the hostages’ release. 
  • 8,000. The approximate number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. 
  • 559. Of those 8,000, the number serving life sentences for killing Israelis.
  • 51%. The percentage of Israelis who said lasting peace between Israel and Palestine will never be achieved in a 2017 Gallup poll. 
  • 74%. The percentage of Israelis who said lasting peace between Israel and Palestine will never be achieved in a 2023 Gallup poll. 
  • 16%. The percentage of Israelis who say they support Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party as of January 18, 2024.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we covered Florida’s African-American studies debate.
  • The most clicked link in our newsletter yesterday was the listing of hot sauce popularity by state.
  • General election dilemma: 1,021 readers responded to our survey asking which Republican candidate they think has the best chance of beating Joe Biden in a head-to-head race with 90% saying Nikki Haley, 7% saying Donald Trump, and 3% unsure or with no opinion. “Only because the media hates Trump. I am, however, voting for Trump,” one respondent said.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Will your state experience 2024’s cicada boom?
  • Take the poll. When do you think the current fighting in Gaza will end? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Geoffrey Holt lived a simple life as the caretaker of a mobile home park in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. "He seemed to have what he wanted, but he didn't want much," said Edwin "Smokey" Smith, Holt's best friend and former employer. Holt died last year, and left all the money he had — $3.8 million — to the town of Hinsdale. "I don't think anyone had any idea that he was that successful," said Steve Diorio, chairperson of the town selectboard who'd occasionally wave at Holt from his car. Smith recalled that Holt had told him that his investments were doing better than he had ever expected, to which Smith replied to remember the town. "I was sort of dumbfounded when I found out that all of it went to the town," he said. The town has not yet decided how to utilize all of the money, which is currently in an interest-earning foundation. The Uplift has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.