ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Lapid: ‘There is a small window of opportunity now for a 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"

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 12, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 12, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There is a narrow window of opportunity for Israel to negotiate a deal to free its hostages in Gaza, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid says, citing recent conversations with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French President Emmanuel Macron.

“The Americans, the French, the Qataris and the Egyptians think that there is now a window of opportunity for a hostage deal, which is not long,” Lapid tells reporters at his Yesh Atid party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset.

“No one can define exactly what ‘not long’ is, whether it is two or three weeks, but this is the time frame in which they still think a deal can be made,” he states, arguing that the Israeli government “cannot ignore any chance, even the smallest, of making a hostage deal.”

Prime Minister Benjamin “Netanyahu should stop with the terrible and cynical and political experiment to divide us – as if there are those who are in favor of the kidnapped and in contrast there are those who are in favor of victory,” Lapid says.

Hamas proposed a ceasefire plan that would see a four-and-a-half-month truce during which hostages would be freed in three stages, and which would lead to an end to the war, Reuters reported, in response to a proposed outline sent two weeks ago by Qatari and Egyptian mediators and backed by the United States and Israel.

Netanyahu rejected Hamas’s “delusional” conditions, arguing that only military pressure will secure the release of the Israelis being held captive in the Gaza Strip.

Addressing the balance between the two war aims of toppling Hamas and securing the release of those held in Gaza, Lapid tells reporters that “every sane Israeli citizen is in favor of victory over Hamas” but that “there will be no victory without first returning the hostages.”

“These people were abandoned by the government and the security system, and the government and the security system have a moral obligation to bring them home,” he says, adding that an operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the last remaining major Hamas stronghold in the Strip, “should be part of an organized strategic plan for the day after” the war.

“There is more political work to be done with the Americans and especially with the Egyptians. This will be a completely different type of operation than what we saw in the north of the Gaza Strip or in the central camps. The State of Israel needs time to prepare it. The hostages should be brought home now.”

Last week Lapid offered to enter the government to replace National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has opposed a deal with far-reaching concessions to Hamas.

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