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Gottheimer Updates Press After Return From Egypt and Qatar

Josh Gottheimer

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5) said American negotiators are fully engaged with all parties in trying to get the hostages released and believes the talks will soon result in a deal allowing their release in exchange for a pause in fighting.

Gottheimer, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, made his observations during a virtual press conference on April 5 after returning from Egypt and Qatar, where he met with Egyptian intelligence, Qatari officials and hostage negotiators.

“My main aim is to get the hostages released, especially our American hostages,” said Gottheimer, who said it is believed there are 100 hostages still being held.

There were eight American hostages taken on Oct. 7, three of whom — Itay Chen, 19, Gad Haggai, 73, and Judith Weinstein, 73 — are believed to be deceased. However, the others are believed to be still alive. They include Edan Alexander, who Gottheimer noted celebrated his 20th birthday in captivity, a 2022 graduate of Tenafly High School who volunteered to serve in the IDF and was taken near the Gaza border.

Sagui Dekel-Chen, 35, was taken from Nir Oz kibbutz. He is the son of Jonathan Dekel-Chen, a professor at Hebrew University who was a visiting scholar at Rutgers University about three years ago, where he created a permanent virtual exhibit on the history of Jewish farming in New Jersey.

Gottheimer said American negotiators were “working around the clock” to secure a hostage deal.

“What we need, of course, is an ultimate end to the conflict,” he added. “I left the trip hopeful that a temporary pause is within reach.”

However, Hamas has rejected many proposed deals, all of which include hostage return, he said.

CIA Director Bill Burns presented a new ceasefire proposal requiring release of hostages but Hamas has said the deal “does not meet their demands,” which supposedly include a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons.

Gottheimer said while all parties in the ongoing talks are fully engaged, he emphasized to the Qataris they are particularly well-positioned because “we know the local wing of Hamas is in Qatar.

“I have said consistently we have to continue keeping pressure on the Qataris,” said Gottheimer. “My takeaway is that they are actively engaged …They are taking their responsibility very seriously. I just came from Egypt and got a real sense they are very active. It is clear the American representatives are actively engaged at the negotiating table.”

He said the White House has repeatedly stressed to all negotiators that hostages’ return is a key component to any deal.

“I think we are all aware of the threat Hamas poses,” he said of parties to the talks, adding they are also “keenly aware” of other threats by Iran’s proxies in the region, including Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis out of Yemen, who he said cannot be allowed to “wreak havoc on international trade” by attacking commercial shipping. However, Gottheimer expressed some concern over reports of Hamas’ participation in the negotiations.

Not only have these proxies attacked Israel, but they pose a threat to American bases in the region, said Gottheimer.

Among the other issues discussed was the need to get more aid to Gaza’s civilian population, an issue that has garnered particular attention since the killing of three aid workers from the World Central Kitchen by the IDF that prompted President Joe Biden to push Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to greatly increase the amount of aid getting into Gaza.

Gottheimer acknowledged concerns about how Israel has handled some aspects of the war. “I stressed the need to the prime minister to expedite humanitarian aid and to protect humanitarian aid workers,” said the congressman, who praised the dismissal of two IDF commanders and the reprimanding of three others for the killings.

“We know Hamas has been stealing aid,” he said, and noted defeating Hamas would be beneficial to both Israel and the United States since its presence represents a threat to democracy.

Gottheimer acknowledged the pain felt by the hostage families he spoke with and others as the war drags on but was optimistic based on his observations of the level of engagement that a deal may be imminent.

He stressed the importance of the United States continuing to stand by its “key ally” Israel, but added that Biden has continuously “reiterated the need to get the hostages home.”

Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.

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