'Time is not running out. It ran out'

Negotiators say Netanyahu has ‘cold indifference’ to the fate of the hostages

Two people involved in talks tell Channel 12 that PM undermines negotiators, won’t entertain new ideas; ‘without Netanyahu, the chances of making a deal would be better’

Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by Hamas hold placards during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, on April 4, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by Hamas hold placards during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, on April 4, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be indifferent to the fate of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and has undermined efforts to reach a deal with Hamas to secure their release, two members of Israel’s negotiating team told Channel 12.

The negotiators, who were identified only by the letters “A” and “D,” spoke anonymously with Ilana Dayan, the host of the leading investigative show “Uvda,” which aired on Thursday night.

Dayan said both men had decided to come forward independently to expose the fact that Israel was not doing all it could to save the hostages who have been held in captivity in Gaza, under what they called “hellish” conditions, for more than six months.

“There is a massive gap between the narratives they are trying to create in the public eye and the actions in reality,” said “A,” his voice distorted to hide his identity.

He further described an atmosphere of “cold indifference” to the plight of the hostages from “the top,” specifically from the Prime Minister’s Office, and said that in discussion on strategy, Netanyahu was unwilling to entertain new ideas.

“Since December, definitely since January, it has become clear to everyone that we are not negotiating,” he said.

“I can’t say that without Netanyahu there would have been a deal, but I can say that without Netanyahu, the chances of making a deal would be better,” said “D.”

Large images of hostages Naama Levy and Liri Albag are held above the crowd as protesters in Tel Aviv call for a hostage deal, April 11, 2024. (Danor Aharon/Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

“It happens again and again, we get a mandate during the day, and then the prime minister makes phone calls at night. He says, ‘Don’t say this, don’t approve that.’ This is how he gets around the heads of the negotiation team as well as the war cabinet,” he said.

“A” added that the Israeli team has been forced to make impossible demands, such as the March demand for a list of living hostages, that they know Hamas will not agree to.

“When that demand came up, it wasn’t realistic to expect we would get it.”

“It was a ridiculous demand,” said D. “We already had the list on our own. Why should we get it from Hamas?”

They also said that the political leadership appeared disconnected from the fate of the hostages, and that when briefing the politicians, the negotiators would often try and include pictures and stories of the hostages to make their fate real to them.

They described how after the first group of hostages was released in late November, they insisted that Netanyahu hear the evidence and meet with medical officials to get a sense of what they were enduring in captivity, “particularly the young women.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting with relatives of hostages held in Gaza, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 22, 2024. (Prime Minister’s Office)

“When I realized that the state is not doing everything it can, I broke down. I cannot say for sure who will be alive by the time there is a deal or what will be left of them. What I can say is that whatever deal is made… could have been made two months ago,” said “A.”

“Time is not running out,” he said. “It ran out.”

Despite this, the two said that those involved in trying to bring back the hostages continued to try everything they could to ensure their survival.

The two explained that the negotiating team is always trying to gain new information about the hostages to share with families and working with the IDF to avoid undue harm to those held captive in Gaza, in addition to carrying out the negotiations themselves.

“We are making a supreme effort to provide the hostages with an umbrella of protection so that we don’t strike or get close [to the areas where they are being held] so that they [Hamas] don’t panic and execute [the hostages],” said “A.”

Despite the great pains being taken to protect the hostages, “A” said, “I need to say, honestly, that we don’t know everything.”

Asked if the hostages were hampering military operations to destroy Hamas, he said that they “are not exactly a burden to the IDF, but they create a major challenge.”

IDF troops operate in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood, in a handout image published April 11, 2024. (IDF)

This challenge is only expected to get worse if the IDF launches a ground offensive in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, where the majority of the Strip’s residents are currently living. “A” said he expects Israeli forces will find “dead” hostages there if they go in.

The premier has announced his authorization of IDF operational plans for Rafah at least four times over the past two months, but no offensive is anticipated in the immediate future amid massive international pressure to first find a way to safely evacuate and house the more than 1 million displaced Palestinian civilians in Rafah.

The Gaza war began when Palestinian terror group Hamas led a devastating cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people. The thousands of attackers who burst through the boundary with the Gaza Strip also abducted 253 people who were taken as hostages into the Palestinian enclave.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers walking next to the destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, 2023, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, November 21, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Israel responded with a military offensive to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza, destroy the terror group and free the hostages.

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 34 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza, however, privately Israeli and US officials have said the number of dead may be much higher.

One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas has also been holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

After a flurry of optimism on Monday over a US proposal for at least a temporary ceasefire that would include the release of some Israeli hostages abducted during the Hamas assault, the terror group gave a tepid initial response, saying not enough of its demands were being met.

More than six months into the war, Hamas said it was “studying” a new proposal for a temporary truce submitted during talks with US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

Under the plan, fighting would stop for six weeks, 40 women and child hostages would be exchanged for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and up to 500 aid trucks would enter Gaza per day, a Hamas source said.

Hamas said it “appreciates” the mediators’ latest efforts, but accused Israel of failing to respond to its long-standing demands, including a full withdrawal of forces from Gaza.

Israel has emphatically rejected that condition and also Hamas’s demand that tens of thousands of displaced Gazans who fled the fighting in the north of the coastal territory be permitted to return unhindered to their homes. Israel is reportedly seeking terms that would enable it to ensure that Hamas fighters don’t take advantage of the situation to reposition in northern Gaza.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 33,000 people have been killed in the fighting in Gaza since October 7, an unverified figure that includes some 13,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. The IDF says it killed 1,000 Hamas and other terrorists inside Israel on and immediately after October 7. Some 260 IDF soldiers have been killed in Gaza.

Emanuel Fabian and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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