US envoy to Israel: ‘It’s a mistake’ to say hostage talks are over, conversations are ongoing

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Speaking at the INSS conference in Tel Aviv, US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew says “it’s a mistake” to think hostage negotiations have ended.

“There are still conversations going on, there is still back and forth, the differences are being narrowed.”

“It is not yet the case that it is broken down,” he says.

While the goal of getting a deal by Ramadan “is very important,” the ambassador says, it is more important to get it done whenever it can be achieved.

He says finding a way to achieve a deal with Hamas is important first of all because of the welfare of the hostages.

“Every day it’s getting harder and harder to be optimistic” about the safety of the hostages, he says.

There are other important benefits of a truce, argues Lew: “A pause would increase the likelihood of a diplomatic solution in the north. A pause would increase the likelihood of Saudi normalization going forward.”

In order for normalization to happen, however, there must an “over the horizon” conversation about a Palestinian state, he insists.

If the hostage issue is not resolved, he says, “I don’t know how to put the other pieces in a place where I can get them resolved,” referring to normalization with Arab countries in the region and a diplomatic solution to fighting against Hezbollah.

He calls such a deal “achievable.”

“What has to be accomplished diplomatically is smaller than it was,” he says, pointing out that both sides don’t want to go to war.

Turning to the “day after” the war, Lew says that future administration of Gaza is “at the heart of every plan” for the future.

“The workforce is going to have to come from the people from the area, many of whom have worked for the Palestinian Authority,” he says. “It’s going to have to be a vetted group of people.”

The key, he says, is security on the streets. He points at the deadly melee around an aid convoy in Gaza City last week as an example of what a breakdown in security leads to.

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