ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Lapid ready to enter government instead of Ben Gvir, Smotrich, to ensure hostage deal

Opposition head says Yesh Atid will provide ‘safety net’ to ensure captives’ release as far-right ministers slam reported deal; Justice Minister Levin said willing to give up role

Opposition Leader MK Yair Lapid speaks in support of a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a plenum session of the Knesset, January 29, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition Leader MK Yair Lapid speaks in support of a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a plenum session of the Knesset, January 29, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said Wednesday that his Yesh Atid party is prepared to enter the government to replace the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties if that is what is needed to secure the release of the hostages from Gaza.

Lapid told Channel 12 news that his party would provide “a safety net for the government,” after the far right-wing parties, led by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich respectively, sharply criticized the reported deals of a possible hostage deal being examined by Israel and Hamas.

Ben Gvir threatened to bring down the government if the “reckless” deal was reached, while Netanyahu’s office insisted Tuesday that the reports were incorrect, stressing that the premier’s position was that there would be no withdrawal from the Strip and that thousands of terrorists would not be released.

A potential deal, reported in The Washington Post on Wednesday, would see all civilian hostages held by the Palestinian terror group in Gaza freed over a six-week pause in fighting, in exchange for three times as many Palestinian security prisoners released from Israeli jails. Other outlets reported different details of a potential deal.

“I am not prepared for the hostages to not be released over politics. We will do what is needed. If we need to enter the government in the place of Ben Gvir and Smotrich, we will enter the government,” Lapid said, adding that “extremists” should not be able to prevent a deal.

“I am not here to save Netanyahu, but I am here to save the hostages,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) walking next to Justice Minister Yariv Levin during a plenum session for Israeli Knesset’s 75th birthday, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on January 24, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following the interview, the ruling Likud party appeared to dismiss Lapid’s offer, saying that “Yair Lapid is pushing for the immediate end of the war without a decisive victory — we will not agree to it.”

However, at the same time, the Ynet news site, citing unnamed political sources, said that Justice Minister Yariv Levin would agree to step aside to allow the opposition leader to take his role in a bid to entice Lapid to join.

The report, likely an attempt to show the far-right parties that Netanyahu has options should they bolt, stated that Levin has expressed willingness to give up his office for the duration of Yesh Atid’s potential time in government, should it be required of him.

As justice minister, Levin has been the architect of the controversial judicial overhaul legislation which sparked almost 10 months of weekly anti-government mass protests and created unprecedented rifts in Israeli society.

Netanyahu has also long been wary of the key ministry falling into the hands of his opponents during his ongoing corruption trial.

Despite repeated denials and confusion regarding the reported hostage deal, both Israel and Hamas are believed to be considering moving ahead with it. Netanyahu has vowed that the war will not end and the number of released security inmates will not be in the thousands, and Hamas has said it will not accept anything less than the end of the war and Israeli forces permanently leaving the entire Gaza Strip, while both sides are said to be considering the reported proposed deal.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November that saw Israel release 240 security prisoners. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops.

File: People attend a demonstration demanding the release of the hostages taken by Hamas terrorists into the Gaza Strip during the Oct. 7th attack, in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 27, 2024. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 29 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Additionally, Hamas has also been holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

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