In jab at far-right ministers, Gantz says government ‘has no right to continue to exist’ if it rejects hostage deal

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 National Unity party Minister Benny Gantz holds a press conference at the Knesset, April 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)
File: Head of the National Unity party Minister Benny Gantz holds a press conference at the Knesset, April 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

If the government rejects a hostage deal backed by the security services, it will “have no right to continue to exist,” war cabinet minister Benny Gantz declares amidst a last-minute push for an agreement ahead of an expected Israeli invasion of Rafah.

“The return of our hostages, abandoned by the October 7 government, is urgent,” Gantz writes on Telegram.

“If a responsible outline is reached for the return of the hostages with the backing of the entire security establishment — which does not involve ending the war — and the ministers who led the government on October 7 prevent it, the government will have no right to continue to exist and lead the campaign,” he states.

Diplomatic efforts have been stepped up in recent days to reach a truce and hostage-release deal in Gaza.

US news website Axios, citing two Israeli officials, reports that Israel’s latest proposal includes a willingness to discuss the “restoration of sustainable calm” in Gaza after hostages are released.

It is the first time in the nearly seven-month war that Israeli leaders have suggested they are open to discussing an end to the war, Axios says.

File: Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem, April 21, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

A senior Hamas official tells AFP that the group would deliver its response to Israel’s latest counterproposal for a Gaza truce on Monday in Egypt. “Hamas is open to discussing the new proposal positively,” another Hamas source close to the negotiations tells AFP.

Gantz’s statement comes after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich warned that the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have “no right of existence” unless Israel invades Rafah.

In a post on X, the head of the far-right Religious Zionism party rejected an Egyptian-mediated deal with Hamas to retrieve the dozens of Israeli hostages in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and scaling back the Israeli offensive there as a “humiliating surrender to the Nazis on the backs of hundreds of IDF soldiers” who died there.

His rejection of a deal was echoed by fellow hard-right Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who tweeted that a “reckless deal equals the dissolution of the government.”

In a post on X, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid takes aim at the far-right ministers’ ultimatums too.

“The government needs to choose: Return the hostages alive, or Ben Gvir and Smotrich. Relations with the Americans or Ben Gvir and Smotrich. An agreement with the Saudis or Ben Gvir and Smotrich. The security of Israel or Ben Gvir and Smotrich,” he writes.

AFP contributed to this report.

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