Poll: Israelis conflicted, but prioritize destroying Hamas over releasing hostages

Survey also shows more than half of opposition supporters want elections within three months, as opposed to 66% of coalition supporters who want 2026 vote

Protesters call for the release of Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, February 10, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)
Protesters call for the release of Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, February 10, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

A plurality of Israelis believe that, if forced to choose, the country should opt to dismantle Hamas over getting back the hostages held in Gaza, according to the Jewish People Policy Institute’s monthly Israel society index poll.

The survey found 40% of Israelis would prioritize eradicating Hamas, with 32% preferring the release of the hostages. The question apparently proved difficult for many to answer, with 28 percent of respondents saying they could not say at all.

Among Jews, the percentage of people who believed destroying Hamas had to be prioritized (47%) was almost double the number of those who believed freeing the hostages should take precedence (25%).

The sentiment could also be seen across most religiosity levels. In all religious groups but one, 20% of respondents or less chose to prioritize the hostages over dismantling Hamas. Among secular people, 51% said they would choose hostages over dismantling Hamas.

The position of Arab Israelis was entirely different, with 61% saying they would choose to return hostages over destroying Hamas and only 11% saying the opposite.

Hamas took 253 people hostage on October 7, when it launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, in which terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Rescued hostages Norberto Louis Har, second from left, and Fernando Marman, second from right, appear in a recorded video thanking the troops who saved them in a special IDF operation in Rafah, February 13, 2024. (Screenshot/Channel 12, Used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

It is believed that 130 of those hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released before that, and three have been rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military.

The issue of what Israel would be willing to do to get back the rest of the hostages has been particularly salient in recent weeks, as multiple countries have been working to mediate between Israel and Hamas and present a deal that both sides could agree on.

Last week, however, Israel dismissed what it called Hamas’s “delusional” demands, which include a complete end to the war. Israeli leaders have repeatedly said that the war could not end before Hamas was fully dismantled and that they would not accept any deal that called for it.

Amid the ongoing fighting in Gaza and negotiations for a hostage deal, public confidence in Israel winning the war has continued to decline in the past four months, with the poll finding that only 54% are confident as opposed to 74% who said the same in October.

Trust in IDF commanders is also in decline. While 75% of Israelis reported that they had high or somewhat high trust in the commanders in October, that number has now fallen to 70% after a spike in November at 86%.

Meanwhile, trust in the government also continued to decline, with Israelis expressing low confidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as they have for months. Trust in the government in general also fell from 38% last month to 34% in the latest poll.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at Hakirya base in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2024. (Yariv Katz/POOL)

With trust in the government declining, 63% of Israelis believe that new elections should be held before their scheduled time in 2026. The most popular option (36%) is that elections should be held within three months.

Only 30% of respondents believe the elections should be held in 2026. Notably, while a majority of opposition supporters want to see elections in the next three months, two-thirds of coalition supporters prefer the national vote be held in 2026 as planned.

The poll also asked Jewish Israelis how many Arabs were politically extremist and vice versa and found that Arab Israelis see Jews as more extremist than the other way around.

The biggest percentage of Jewish Israelis (39%) reported believing that only some Arabs are politically extremist while the biggest percentage of Arab Israelis (37%) said the same was true for most Jews.

The majority of respondents (81%) agreed that they were either somewhat or very worried about the social situation in Israel.

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