newsIsrael at War

Likud MKs still trust Netanyahu on hostage deal

Despite issuing a letter demanding oversight of hostage talks, Netanyahu's MKs remain confident in prime minister's conduct of negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting in Jerusalem of a group countering crime in Arab society in Israel, March 19, 2024. Credit: Ma'ayan Toaff/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting in Jerusalem of a group countering crime in Arab society in Israel, March 19, 2024. Credit: Ma'ayan Toaff/GPO.

In Nov. 2023, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought a hostage deal before his government and managed to receive the support of almost all his ministers. The major opponent was National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and the ministers from Ben-Gvir’s party.

It is now assumed that if and when Netanyahu brings another hostage deal before the government, it will be much harder for him to gain support from his ministers. This time, he will have to convince not only Ben-Gvir but also Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Smotrich has already made two demands in regards to any deal: First, there will be no free movement for Palestinians between southern and northern Gaza. Everyone who travels from one to the other must be screened and checked. Second, the U.S. must pledge, in public, that it will allow Israel to continue fighting after any ceasefire deal has expired and there will be an IDF operation in Rafah.

Given that the two most right-wing parties in the coalition are explicitly skeptical of any deal, it is no surprise that seven Likud Knesset members issued a letter demanding that Netanyahu update them on the status of such a deal.

JNS asked MK Amit Halevi, one of the signatories, whether the letter shows a lack of confidence in Netanyahu.

“No,” Halevi replied. “It does not arise from a lack of trust, but with the aim that this discussion will receive publicity. We as elected officials who represent the public will be able to both voice our opinion and raise our finger. Such an event cannot be without supervision.”

MK Boaz Bismuth told JNS, “You must not conclude from the letter whether I support the deal or not. Every Israeli citizen wants the hostages back at home. Obviously, we are members of the Likud Party in the Knesset, so we want to voice our opinion in these fateful days … when the goals of all of us remain the return of all the hostages and the destruction of Hamas.”

Bismuth said that he trusts Netanyahu on the matter of a possible deal.

“It’s really not a lack of confidence in the prime minister,” he told JNS. “The goal is to strengthen the prime minister. I’m sure he will make the right decisions. When I hear the accusations against Netanyahu that he does not want to return the hostages, I tell you that in every conversation I have with him, every conversation is also about the return of the abductees. In the State of Israel, there is a consensus on returning all the hostages. Do you know someone who would prevent the possibility of returning abductees?”

MK Halevi said he is concerned about the way officials in the security establishment are conducting the hostage negotiations.

“I have a feeling that this way will not lead to a hostage deal, but rather it will harm it,” he stated. “There are intelligence reports that prove that the international conduct harms the chance of freeing the Israelis who are held captive by Hamas. There are those who think Mossad head David Barnea, smiling, will bring a deal, but it will bring the opposite. It closes off the deal.”

“Netanyahu occasionally tries to hold to the Israeli position by his fingernails,” Halevi asserted. “In the previous deal, Hamas felt that it was pushed into a corner and that it had to stop the Israeli rampage, and so in the end there was a deal.”

At the moment, Likud MKs support Netanyahu, at least those who speak publicly. But several sources in the Likud Party told JNS that some MKs and even ministers have doubts about a deal, especially given media reports on the potential terms. They prefer not to be interviewed on the issue, however.

For now, there is no deal. But if one is concluded and brought to a cabinet vote, it is important to examine what Smotrich and Ben-Gvir might do. It could affect the public statements and even the votes of Likud MKs.

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