Far-right ministers accuse Netanyahu of ‘whitewashing’ hostage deal, hiding details

Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party relocates its Knesset faction meeting to avoid families of hostages; ‘it looks like he’s a coward,’ says relative

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, on June 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Head of the Otzma Yehudit party and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, on June 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners, accused him on Monday of withholding details of the hostage deal proposal presented by US President Joe Biden last week, stating that neither had seen the full text of the proposal.

Addressing reporters at the Knesset, Ben Gvir said Netanyahu had told him that the actual proposal differed from the version presented by Biden and that “there will be no reckless deal and no end to the war without the collapse of Hamas.”

“I asked him if I could look at the draft of the agreement, and he agreed and said that I could come to his office so that I could see the draft with my own eyes,” Ben Gvir said, but on Sunday when he arrived, he was told, “There is no draft,” by Netanyahu’s assistants.

“This morning I also went to the Prime Minister’s Office, and there, once again, they refused to present the draft agreement to me,” he continued, asserting that National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi likewise denied that such a document existed.

Ben Gvir moved the location of his faction meeting after several relatives of hostages showed up, sparking a protest in the Knesset.

The new hostage outline

In a speech on Friday night, Biden revealed that a new Israeli proposal for a ceasefire and hostage deal had been submitted on Thursday to Hamas via Qatar. The US president urged Hamas to accept it and the Israeli government to “stand behind it,” a seeming recognition that it could spark a backlash within Netanyahu’s cabinet.

Relatives of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza and activists protest against Head of the Otzma Yehudit party and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir outside his faction meeting at the Knesset, June 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Both Ben Gvir and Smotrich on Saturday night threatened to bring down the government if the deal is adopted by the government.

The first phase of the proposal would include a complete ceasefire, and by phase two, Israel would withdraw its forces entirely from Gaza. Phase three would involve “a major reconstruction plan” for the territory.

Not ending the war

Speaking with members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at a closed-door session on Monday, Netanyahu asserted that “the claim that we agreed to a ceasefire without our conditions being met is incorrect.”

“The proposal that Biden presented is incomplete,” he told lawmakers, citing “gaps” between the Israeli version and Biden’s recounting of it. US officials, in response, denied that such gaps existed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) speaks at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, June 3, 2024. (Maayan Toaf/GPO)

Dissatisfaction on the right

Netanyahu’s assurances were not enough for his far-right partners.

“If the deal is not reckless and does not include a commitment to end the war for Hamas’s collapse, why do you refuse to present it to me?” Ben Gvir asked on Monday, accusing Netanyahu of “whitewashing” the proposal.

“If you sign a reckless deal that will bring an end to the war without the collapse of Hamas, Otzma Yehudit will dissolve the government,” he threatened.

Speaking with reporters outside a protest tent set up by the Heroism Forum, a group representing bereaved families pushing for increased military pressure on Hamas, Smotrich sounded a similar note, stating that Israel is not bound by the “offer of surrender” presented by Biden.

If the government decides to accept the proposal for a hostage agreement, which was made by the war cabinet “in violation of the law,” then “we will not be part of it,” he said.

“The conduct of the war cabinet is a failure and dangerous,” Smotrich insisted. “If, God forbid, the government decides to accept this offer of surrender, we will not be part of it.”

Minister of Finance and head of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich speaking next to a protest tent organized by the bereaved families of soldiers killed during the Swords of Iron War next to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, June 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

In response to a reporter’s question, Smotrich said that, like Ben Gvir, he had not been shown the full contents of the hostage-ceasefire proposal.

Confrontations with hostage families

Ben Gvir and Smotrich were confronted Monday by relatives of the hostages who showed up to both ministers’ speeches.

While members of Ben Gvir’s party initially spoke with hostages’ family members who arrived at their faction meeting, the weekly gathering was soon shifted to a new location, and Knesset security prevented the families from entering. The protesters, chanting, “Yes to Netanyahu’s deal,” engaged in a sit-in outside the room.

Asked why he declined to allow the relatives into the meeting and switched locations, Ben Gvir told reporters that he has met with hostage families and will continue to do so, but that doing so in front of the cameras constituted “populism.”

Speaking with The Times of Israel, Gil Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel Gat is held in Gaza, said, “It looks like [Ben Gvir] is a coward. Maybe he’s got something to hide.”

Relatives of the hostages confront Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during a press conference near the High Court of Justice, June 3, 3024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

Smotrich, meanwhile, engaged directly with the hostages’ families, answering their questions at the end of his press conference.

Challenged by relatives saying that Hamas can be defeated later, but that their family members need to come home now, Smotrich responded that he believed they were mistaken and that a deal would actually delay their loved ones’ return.

Offering a lifeline

Addressing the Knesset plenum Monday ahead of a no-confidence vote in the government, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid highlighted Netanyahu’s refusal to share the outline with Ben Gvir as an example of the government’s dysfunction and the lack of trust among its members.

“We find ourselves in a situation where the prime minister cannot show this page to a cabinet member because it is completely clear to him that he will cause riots and sabotage and try to do everything to destroy a proposal that the prime minister forwarded to the Americans,” Lapid said.

During a hearing in the Knesset State Control Committee earlier in the day, Lapid reiterated his promise to provide Netanyahu with a political safety net if his far-right coalition partners pull out of the government over the hostage-ceasefire deal. “There will be time to eliminate Hamas; there is no time left for the hostages,” said Lapid.

Jeremy Sharon, Lazar Berman, and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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