newsIsrael at War

Within the Netanyahu government, opposition to hostage deal grows

“This war had three goals: The destruction of Hamas, the return of the hostages and making sure that Gaza does not pose a threat to Israel. The deal you are now looking at leaves us without these goals,” MK Ohad Tal told JNS.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, April 17, 2024. Photo by Maayan Toaf/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, April 17, 2024. Photo by Maayan Toaf/GPO.

As the Israeli government and Hamas appear to close in on a possible hostage deal, members of the coalition from both sides of the aisle are weighing in.

War cabinet members Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot have threatened to leave the government if Israel refuses a deal because of what they call political “blackmail.” On the other side are those Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is far more afraid of: The two right-wing parties in his coalition, Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit and Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism. Without these two parties, Netanyahu will lose his Knesset majority.

The two parties are not happy about the prospective deal. Member of Knesset Ohad Tal (Religious Zionism) told JNS, “This war had three goals: The destruction of Hamas, the return of the hostages and making sure that Gaza does not pose a threat to Israel. All members of the war cabinet agreed that these are the aims of the war. The deal you are now looking at leaves us without these goals.”

In the proposed deal, Tal said, “There is only a partial return of the hostages, most of them will remain in the hands of Hamas, and we are withdrawing from Gaza and going to a long ceasefire, which means the end of the war, so we lose any chance of freeing the rest of the hostages.”

MK Yitzhak Kroizer (Otzma Yehudit) told JNS, “We really want to the return of the hostages home. The opposition is not to any deal but to an outline that will endanger Israel and seal the fate of the other hostages.” Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, he said, “really has no interest in freeing everyone, because without hostages he has no hope of achieving his goals.”

The opposition appears to be in support of a deal. Recently, the head of the opposition, Yesh Atid Party leader and former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, told Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that his party will back any hostage agreement with Hamas.

JNS asked Kroizer and Tal if they will quit the government even if it means Lapid will step in as their replacement.

Tal told JNS, “We are ready to go all the way. Quitting the coalition is on the table. If the government approves this deal, we will not be part of this government. We will not be hostages regarding the question ‘Can there be a worse government?’ Even if Gantz and Lapid have more power in the next government, this is not a consideration for us.”

“A government that declares the end of the war, withdraws IDF forces from Gaza and leaves Hamas alive and well has no right to exist,” Kroizer told JNS.

However, MK Ariel Kalner of Netanyahu’s Likud Party told JNS, “I don’t think it’s the right time now to threaten to leave the government. It doesn’t add anything. It’s important to stand united and it is important that we do not fall into the trap that Sinwar has set for us.”

Kalner is one of the few Likud members who opposes a deal. He doesn’t want to leave the coalition and does not support toppling the government, but his stance on a deal is quite clear.

“I think we are falling into the trap in terms of terminology,” he told JNS. “‘Deal’ is a term used by businessmen in the West. We are here in a religious war against a very religious man, Sinwar, and he speaks a completely different language. He wants to be a myth. And when we talk to him about deals, which do not come from strength, we remove the possibility of releasing all the hostages, and also strengthen him in his struggle to destroy Israel.”

“The way to free the hostages is through an operation in Rafah,” he asserted. “Any hostage deal before that makes the return of the other hostages more distant.”

The last time a hostage deal was brought to a coalition vote, only the three Otzma Yehudit ministers opposed it. Now, it seems both right-wing parties and several ministers might oppose it, which puts Netanyahu in a political dilemma.

However, the debate is theoretical at this point, because Sinwar hasn’t responded to the proposed deal and, thus far, his answer has usually been “no.”

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