Biden sees some political gain in hostage deal, says Israel’s ambassador to US

According to Michael Herzog, the president is eager to show success ahead of election — but that is not the main reason he is putting effort into securing the release of captives

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog speaks during Israel's Independence Day reception, hosted by the Israeli embassy to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, June 6, 2023. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)
Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog speaks during Israel's Independence Day reception, hosted by the Israeli embassy to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, June 6, 2023. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

There is a political aspect to US President Joe Biden’s push for a ceasefire and hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, Israel’s Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog told Army Radio on Wednesday.

“Biden will see it as an achievement and will want to take credit — as everyone knows, we are approaching the elections,” said Herzog.

“The ability to show an achievement on an issue he worked on for a long time is of course important to him,” the ambassador continued.

“I’m not saying this is the main reason he wants a deal,” Herzog said. “Even when there wasn’t a political mess, he was very focused on this. But there is of course a political dimension as well.”

A summit between Israel and Egyptian, Qatari and American mediators on a potential deal was held Wednesday in the Qatari capital of Doha. The three countries have been striving to hammer out an agreement between Israel and Hamas for the release of over 100 hostages that the Palestinian terror group abducted from Israel during its devastating October 7 assault and who are still held by the group.

Biden has put significant diplomatic muscle behind the effort to find a formula that both sides accept. In May, he revealed Israel’s latest proposal in a White House address. It took weeks of pressure for Hamas to issue a response that sparked renewed talks in Cairo and Doha.

US President Joe Biden, right, meets with freed hostage Liat Atzili at the White House on July 8, 2024. (White House/X)

“Americans are saying both that there is movement in Hamas’s position and that there are still gaps that we need to work to close, and that is what they are working on right now,” said Herzog.

The ambassador also denied that the Biden administration blamed Israel for the months of fruitless attempts to close a deal.

“They understand the complexity, they understand the difficulty,” he said.

Herzog insisted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned address to a joint session of Congress on July 24 would be seen as a bipartisan initiative, and would not be viewed as an intrusion into US politics.

File: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves following his address to a joint session of the US Congress on March 3, 2015 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

“Most people in the government and in Congress understand that Israel is in a time of war,” he said, adding that the speech would focus on that.

Herzog acknowledged disputes between Washington and Jerusalem regarding the Israel-Hamas war but asserted that overall relations are “strong.”

“Most of the things that we are dealing with are not disclosed to the public, but are very important,” he added.

Netanyahu will likely meet with Biden when the Israeli premier is in Washington, the White House confirmed last week.

“The president has known Prime Minister Netanyahu for three decades. They will likely see each other when the prime minister is here over the course of that week, but we have nothing to announce at this time,” a White House official told The Times of Israel.

The meeting will come against the backdrop of another fraught point in ties between the two governments, sparked by a video Netanyahu issued last month in which he accused the Biden administration of withholding significant amounts of weapons from Israel.

The US has vehemently denied the claim, insisting that it has only delayed one shipment of heavy bombs it doesn’t want Israel using in densely populated parts of Gaza. The White House acknowledged that some bottlenecks had accumulated in the US weapon transfer system, but insisted that it wasn’t intentional and that they were being addressed following Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s visit to Washington.

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