Far-right coalition MK: ‘Not sure’ it is possible to bring back all Gaza hostages

Religious Zionism’s Zvi Sukkot says ‘everything’ must be done to free the captives, but not at the expense of significant harm to national security

MK Zvi Sukkot at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 12, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Zvi Sukkot at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 12, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Zvi Sukkot of the coalition’s Religious Zionism Party said Wednesday that he’s doubtful Israel can win the release of all 128 of the October 7 hostages still being held by terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

“I wish it were possible to return all the hostages — I’m not sure that’s possible,” Sukkot told Radio 103FM, adding: “We need to do everything to bring them home, but not anything that will critically harm national security.”

The far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties have been arguing in favor of intensifying military operations in Gaza, claiming it is the only way to pressure Hamas to release the hostages. Israel, meanwhile has engaged in negotiations via mediators, showing willingness for a temporary ceasefire that would include the release of hostages. In the now-moribund talks, Hamas has consistently demanded a total end to the war, which Israel says is a nonstarter.

Israel has made a key goal of its military offensive in Gaza the return of all the hostages seized during the devastating cross-border attack by the Palestinian terror group Hamas on October 7, which started the war.

“We think the way to return [the hostages] is when Hamas understands it doesn’t have a choice but to return them,” Sukkot said, adding that currently, Hamas is banking on international pressure hindering Israel’s operations, and therefore “has no reason to make concessions to Israel.”

Sukkot said that a major operation in Rafah would pile pressure on Hamas in a way it did not ever expect to face. Israel has long promised such an operation but it faces steep international opposition as over a million people who fled fighting elsewhere in the Strip are sheltering in and around the city.

Last week Israel began what it said were pinpoint operations in the Rafah area, including seizing control of the key Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which is a major conduit of humanitarian aid into the Palestinian enclave.

Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, on the eve of Israel’s 76th independence day, May 13, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Sukkot also said he had participated in a rally calling for Israel to resettle Gaza when the war is over, saying such a move should be seen as an alternative to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority taking over control of the Strip. The idea has gained popularity on the hard-right since the war started. Israel cleared its settlements from Gaza during its unilateral withdrawal from the territory in 2005.

“In almost every war Israel took territory from the enemy,” he said. “Settlement in Gaza is just a very small part of what we are thinking of for the day after [the war ends].”

His party, Religious Zionism, has opposed even a temporary truce with Hamas as enabling the terror group to regroup and move its forces back into areas the Israel Defense Forces have already cleared. The party has threatened to bolt the coalition over a hostage deal.

At the beginning of the month, the party’s Settlements and National Projects Minister Orit Strock sparked fierce criticism when, in rejecting a hostage deal proposal at the time that would see the release of around 30-40 hostages, she made remarks seen as flippant about the captives.

There are “soldiers who left everything behind and went out to fight for goals that the government defined, and we throw it in the trash to save 22 people or 33 or I don’t know how many,” the far-right minister told Army Radio.

Condemning Strock, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid tweeted that “a government with 22 or 33 extremist coalition members has no right to exist.”

The government faces significant public pressure to agree to a deal that will free the hostages, even at the price of compromising on its goal of eliminating Hamas.

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