update deskIsrael at War

Israelis prioritize defeating Hamas over freeing hostages

If faced with the choice, 40% would choose toppling the terrorist group compared to 32% supporting bringing the captives home.

Israel Defense Forces troops operate in the Gaza Strip, Feb. 12, 2024. Credit: IDF.
Israel Defense Forces troops operate in the Gaza Strip, Feb. 12, 2024. Credit: IDF.

More Israelis would choose to defeat Hamas over returning the hostages in a hypothetical scenario where Jerusalem is faced with the stark choice, according to the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI)’s monthly Israeli Society Index for February.

Forty percent of the Israeli public prioritizes toppling the terrorist group in Gaza at the expense of bringing the captives home, while 32% support the return of the hostages and leaving Hamas in charge of the coastal enclave.

Broken down by ethnicity, 47% of Israeli Jews choose winning the war compared to 25% who say returning the hostages is more important. Among Israeli Arabs, 61% prioritize returning the hostages over defeating Hamas.

Orthodox and traditional Jews overwhelmingly prioritize overthrowing Hamas, while secular Jews are split down the middle with 51% favoring the hostages versus 49% supporting the defeat of Hamas.

The question posed was: “Let’s assume Israel’s leaders reach the conclusion that they only have the two following options, which do you think should be chosen?” The two options were: “The hostages are returned, and Hamas remains in control of Gaza,” and “The hostages are not returned, and Hamas loses control of Gaza.”

A third option was “Can’t answer,” which a sizable number of respondents chose (28% overall). According to the JPPI analysis, most of these respondents “prefer ousting Hamas but did not want to say so due to the emotional implications.”

“It turns out that the majority of the public prioritizes overall national security considerations above everything else,” noted Professor Yedidia Stern, JPPI’s president.

Other key findings include a drop in confidence among Israeli Jews that the war will be won, down 20 points from October (74%) to February (54%). Also, 36% of Israelis favor holding early elections within three months, while 30% want the elections to remain at the scheduled time in 2026.

Around 700 Israeli Jews and 100 Israeli Arabs were polled online, and another 100 Israeli Arabs by telephone. The margin of error is ±4.3%.

A Channel 12 snap poll conducted late last month found that 50% of Israelis are opposed to a hostage deal that would see an extended pause in fighting in Gaza and the release of thousands of Palestinian terrorists.

Just 35% overall support the terms of the potential agreement as they were reported at the time, with the rest undecided.

Additionally, a survey published earlier this month found that more than half of the Israeli public opposes the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a deal that would end the war against Hamas and normalize relations between Jerusalem and Riyadh.

“Do you support or oppose the notion that as part of a deal to end the war—which will include long-term military quiet, guarantees from the United States, and an agreement with Arab states such as Saudi Arabia—Israel should agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state?” asked the January 2024 Israeli Voice Index, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research.

Fifty-one percent of Israelis opposed this proposal, compared to 36% expressing support.

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