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Can Israel accomplish 2 goals: recovering hostages and attacking Hamas?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure. Israeli voters want their hostages back from Gaza. Some of the families stormed a parliamentary session, accusing the prime minister of prioritizing the war against Hamas over the freedom of their loved ones. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

(SHOUTING)

INSKEEP: Amid these and other protests, the prime minister is denying reports that he has rejected a proposal from Hamas that might have brought some hostages home. For a view on that debate and much more, we've called Alon Pinkas. He's a former Israeli diplomat who advised multiple Israeli foreign ministers and prime ministers and is now a columnist for the newspaper Haaretz. Welcome to the program.

ALON PINKAS: Thank you, Steve, good to be with you.

INSKEEP: What is the general shape of any agreement that would bring back hostages from Gaza?

PINKAS: Well, right now, the contours of such a deal look pretty simple, a cease-fire - a comprehensive cease-fire in exchange for the hostages. That is something - it looks simple, but it's far from being simple. That is something that Israel rejects. And that is not something that Hamas is willing to do without assurances that this cease-fire will be durable and sustainable.

INSKEEP: OK, so we're at the point where Israel would effectively have to say, we're giving up for now on our war against Hamas in order to give everyone - get everyone back. That's the thing that Israel doesn't want to do.

PINKAS: Well, that's the thing that Israel should have done. But that's the thing that, exactly like you said it, that Israel - or the prime minister, rather, prefers not to do. And that is the source or the basics of the protest against him, of the demonstrations against him.

INSKEEP: Are there, like, large numbers of Israelis who are saying, quit the war because the hostages are more important than destroying every last bit of Hamas?

PINKAS: Well, you know, it's a very difficult time, Steve, to conduct accurate polls because, you know, emotions are high. The devastation still lingers from October 7. But if you look at the polls - I mean, there was a major poll that was published yesterday. Seventy-six percent of the public thinks that Netanyahu is guilty of October 7. Seventy-four percent, almost identical number, think that he should resign and 62% favor an election. You know, 83% want an inquiry commission. But when asked specifically about the hostages, just slightly above 50% would welcome or would support a cease-fire in exchange for the hostages.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK. So there is a fair amount of support, huh?

PINKAS: Because - well, that, Steve, is because they are under the impression that if the war lingers on, if the war goes on, Israel could actually eliminate or eradicate or topple Hamas. Other people think differently.

INSKEEP: Yeah, there are questions among strategists about whether that's possible.

PINKAS: Yes, correct.

INSKEEP: So Netanyahu is blamed for allowing the Hamas attack on October 7.

PINKAS: Yep.

INSKEEP: Netanyahu is blamed for the war in effect, and there's not overwhelming support for his policy on the hostages. But now there's this other matter that has come up. President Biden and Saudi Arabia and others have been pushing Israel to make way for a possible two-state solution, a long-term, durable solution to peace with Palestinians.

PINKAS: Right.

INSKEEP: Netanyahu said last week, I'm just not going to do it, which is the same thing he said for years. Is the Israeli public on his side there?

PINKAS: Well, that's an important question, what was - used to be called the $64,000, when that was real money.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

PINKAS: Here's the thing. The public right now is still, you know, vengeful and agonizing and devastated and shocked from October 7. So any talk about a Palestinian state tomorrow morning will meet resistance. People are going to say - what? - we're going to have seven more October 7 in seven different locations in the West Bank. On the other hand, people have come to realize that the status quo is unsustainable.

And you just mentioned, Steve, you know, Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are saying, normalization of relations in exchange for a Palestinian state. This is something that Israel dreamt of for decades. It should be done. The thing is, it cannot - I repeat, cannot - be done with this current government of right-wing, messianic lunatics headed by Mr. Netanyahu. What can I say?

INSKEEP: OK, one view of the current Israeli government and of Israeli public opinion. It comes from Alon Pinkas of Haaretz. Thanks so much for your time.

PINKAS: My pleasure, Steve, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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