Holding a Sinwar victory pic, Smotrich pans hostage deal; Lapid to PM: We’ll back it

Warning against ‘a defeat and humiliation’ as negotiations resume, Religious Zionism leader insists: ‘We will not be part of a deal to surrender to Hamas’

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"

Minister of Finance and head of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich holds up a picture of a victorious Gaza Hamas leader Yahya Siwar, at a faction meeting at the Knesset, on July 8, 2024.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Minister of Finance and head of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich holds up a picture of a victorious Gaza Hamas leader Yahya Siwar, at a faction meeting at the Knesset, on July 8, 2024.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Monday warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against agreeing to a hostage deal, arguing that to do so would constitute “a defeat and humiliation.”

Addressing reporters in the Knesset ahead of the Israeli negotiating team’s departure for further hostage deal talks in Cairo and Doha later this week, the hardline Religious Zionism party chief claimed that the agreement being negotiated “will sentence to death 90 hostages who are not part of the deal and will lead to thousands of murdered people who will die in the next massacre by Sinwar and Hamas.”

“This is the picture we will see in Gaza if we, God forbid, sign this irresponsible deal,” he said, holding up a poster of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar flashing victory signs.

“Mr. Prime Minister, this is not absolute victory. This is complete failure,” Smotrich continued, directly addressing Netanyahu — who on Sunday presented a list of what he said were non-negotiable Israeli demands — and calling the deal “a defeat and humiliation for Israel and a victory for Sinwar.”

Netanyahu’s statement, at a crucial phase ahead of the resumption of talks, sparked anger, both in Israel and among mediators, with some accusing him of attempting to sabotage hard-won progress to extend his own political survival.

“We will not be part of a deal to surrender to Hamas,” Smotrich insisted, hinting at his oft-repeated threat to bolt the coalition if a deal is signed.

Protesters led by the mothers of Hamas-held hostages demonstrate in support of a hostage deal in Tel Aviv on July 5, 2024. The banner reads: ‘A mother never gives up.’ (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Israeli-drafted outline for a hostage deal and truce in Gaza that US President Joe Biden presented at the end of May proposed a phased process that would include a “full and complete” six-week ceasefire and the release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, and the wounded, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners.

The renewed negotiations in both Egypt and Qatar come after the Hamas terror group said on Saturday that it was ready to discuss a hostage deal and an end to the war in Gaza without an upfront commitment by Israel to a “complete and permanent ceasefire.” That statement constituted a shift in the position Hamas has held in all previous negotiations since November.

Both Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who heads the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party, have repeatedly threatened to bolt the coalition in recent months in an effort to prevent Jerusalem from agreeing to a ceasefire in Gaza.

In April, Smotrich criticized the government for making what he said were dangerous “strategic concessions” in order to secure the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, declaring that he was “ready to pay the political price” to prevent an “existential threat” to the State of Israel — even if it means going to the opposition.

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with representatives of families of hostages held by Hamas (GPO)

Two months later, Smotrich and Ben Gvir threatened to bring down the government to prevent a ceasefire, stating that a deal would spell the end of the war without the completion of Israel’s central aim of destroying Hamas.

The two parties won 14 seats when running together in the 2022 elections and are crucial to the governing majority of Netanyahu’s core 64-strong coalition.

While Smotrich railed against the potential deal on Monday, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid offered to provide Netanyahu with a political lifeline in order to advance a potential hostage deal, despite the opposition of the premier’s far-right allies.

“There’s a hostage deal on the table. It is not true that Netanyahu has to choose between the hostage deal and his continued tenure as prime minister. I promised him a safety net, and I will keep that promise,” Lapid told reporters ahead of his Yesh Atid party’s weekly faction meeting.

“This is not an easy statement, and it is not an easy decision. Netanyahu is a bad, failed prime minister, and he is to blame for the October 7 disaster, but the most important thing is to bring the kidnapped people back home,” he said.

Opposition Leader and Yesh Atid head MK Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 8, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The hostage deal has a large majority of the people [in favor], it has a large majority here in the Knesset, it has to happen. We are coming back and offering Netanyahu a political safety net to make the deal — now.”

Lapid has spent the past half a year offering Netanyahu backing for a deal, going so far as to offer to enter the government to replace Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism if that is what is needed to secure the release of the hostages from Gaza.

“I told the prime minister — I am not interested in portfolios, I was foreign minister, I was finance minister, I was prime minister. I am interested in one thing — returning the hostages,” Lapid said in February.

“And if he needs a safety net of any kind from me — by entering the government, from the outside, in any way — just tell me. Because the important thing is to return the hostages,” he said at the time.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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