After the cabinet approved an agreement to release some 50 Israeli hostages from Hamas captivity in Gaza in exchange for roughly 150 terror convicts in an overnight vote, the deal was cautiously welcomed by most in Israel on Wednesday, with many stressing that it must ultimately lead to the release of the remaining close to 200 hostages held by terrorists in the Strip. Some 30 children and 20 mothers and other women are expected to be freed.
President Isaac Herzog released a statement expressing support for the hostage agreement, while acknowledging “the understandable, painful and difficult misgivings.”
“It is a moral and ethical duty that correctly expresses the Jewish and Israeli value of redeeming captives, and I hope that it will be a significant first step for bringing all the captives home,” Herzog wrote.
“The State of Israel, IDF and security forces will continue to act in all ways to achieve this goal, along with restoring complete security to Israeli citizens,” he added.
Under the terms of the deal approved by the cabinet, Israel has committed to release 150 Palestinian women and minor prisoners being held in Israeli jails in exchange for the initial release of 50 Israeli hostages held in Gaza, in addition to a four-day pause in fighting in the Strip.
Israel released a list of 300 prisoners who could potentially be released, and allowed any Israelis opposing their release to appeal to the High Court within next 24 hours. The vast majority of those on the list are 16- to 18-year-old males from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The government statement on the vote did not include a breakdown, although it is widely believed to have been 35-3, with only ministers from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party voting against.
Fellow far-right party Religious Zionism said early Wednesday morning that its three ministers ultimately overcame their opposition to the hostage deal and voted for it after being convinced that the push to uproot Hamas would continue after the initial four-day ceasefire, which can be extended by one day for each 10 additional hostages released.
“It is no secret that before the cabinet discussion, we thought otherwise,” wrote party head Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in a statement, noting that during the debate his party had been convinced that “repatriating hostages would advance the goals of the war” and that “the government, the [security] cabinet and the entire defense establishment were unreservedly committed to continuing the war until the destruction of Hamas.”
Smotrich cited unspecified “clear mechanisms” within the deal to prevent “future machinations and surrender to [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar’s manipulation.”
The far-right leader thanked Israel’s military for creating what he said was the pressure required to have brought the hostage deal to the table.
“We have no intention of stopping; on the contrary – the political echelon stands behind you, believes in you, and is convinced that you will complete the job, destroy the Hamas Nazis in Gaza, and restore security and national dignity to the citizens of Israel,” he added.
National Missions Minister Orit Strock, from the Religious Zionism party, wrote on X that she had voted in favor of the deal despite not having intended to at the start of the cabinet meeting.
“The hostage release deal is one of the achievements of the war — that is my conclusion in light of detailed reviews, questions that were answered in-depth, and a review of the list of terrorists to be released,” she wrote. “The soldiers, who brought about this achievement through their fighting, will continue their battle at full strength immediately afterward.”
In a tweet Wednesday morning, Otzma Yehudit party chief Ben Gvir called the approved deal a “dangerous precedent” that repeats past mistakes — likely a reference to the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal, in which over 1,000 terrorists were freed in return for one IDF soldier — and plays into the hands of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar.
The extreme-right politician contended that while it had some upsides, “we have a moral duty to bring everyone home, and we have no right or permission to agree to the idea of separating them and only bringing some home.”
He slammed the deal for not securing the release of all the women and children hostages held in Gaza, branding it “immoral, illogical and very far from enough” and saying it “could and should have been different.”
“Hamas wanted this truce more than anything,” he charged. “It also wanted to ‘get rid’ of the women and children in the first stage, because they caused international pressure on it. It wanted to get, in exchange, fuel, the release of terrorists, halting IDF actions and even a ban on [IDF reconnaissance] flights. It got all of those.”
He urged stepping up IDF military actions against Hamas, with the goal of pressuring the terror group to agree to a comprehensive hostage deal. He said his party ministers voted against the deal “not without contemplation,” saying that all options at the moment were “bad.”
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said his Yesh Atid party gave its “backing” to the deal approved by the cabinet overnight. Lapid was briefed on the deal on Tuesday evening by the government’s military secretary.
Acknowledging that close to 200 hostages will remain in Gaza under the terms of the deal, Lapid wrote on X that “the State of Israel has a supreme obligation to continue to work to bring all the hostages home, every last one.”
Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen wrote on X that it was important to “strengthen the government and welcome the deal to release hostages that passed overnight. We are all praying that we will soon see all the hostages home.”
Yesh Atid MK Merav Ben-Ari branded the Otzma Yehudit ministers “weak people, cowards, and a mostly a group of wretched opportunists” over their opposition to the deal, calling on them to resign after they voted against “one of the most dramatic and complicated decisions in this government.”
While all ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party voted in favor of the deal, firebrand Likud lawmaker Tally Gotliv slammed the agreement as a “national embarrassment.”
“Not a single minister in the government demanded receiving proof of life from all of the hostages before they voted in favor like pawns,” she wrote. “This agreement, which does not bring all the hostages home, is a humiliation,” she added, suggesting that the deal will only empower Hamas.
During the cabinet meeting, which began late Tuesday evening and continued until early Wednesday, all the security agencies — the IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad — expressed their support for the deal. Hebrew media said this endorsement convinced several ministers who had been on the fence, including the National Unity party’s Minister Gideon Sa’ar, to back the agreement.
A government official who briefed reporters on the deal Tuesday afternoon said that Netanyahu insisted that certain elements be part of the deal, including the potential release of further hostages after the initial four-day pause in fighting, a commitment by Hamas to identify and locate hostages held by other terror groups in the Strip, and a refusal to release Palestinian prisoners who have been convicted of murder.
Israel believes Hamas could potentially locate some 30 more Israeli women and children beyond the initial 50, and that the halt in fighting could be extended by a day for each group of 10 more Israeli hostages who are located and freed, the government official said. Hamas is claiming it cannot immediately track down around 10 children taken from Israel during its October 7 onslaught.
The emerging hostage deal will see the release of 30 children and 20 women held by Hamas in Gaza, including eight who are mothers of some of the children, Hebrew media reported.
Hamas has said it has 210 of the about 240 hostages abducted last month. Islamic Jihad is said to be holding many of the remaining hostages. Hamas said during the talks on a deal that it would not release any IDF soldiers.
Part of the agreement will see the Red Cross given access to the hostages who will remain in Gaza, including supplying them with medicine, Netanyahu’s office said on Tuesday.
Netanyahu said in a statement before the cabinet vote that the war against Hamas will continue until all of Israel’s goals are achieved — namely to topple the Gaza-ruling terror group, secure the release of all the hostages, and ensure that there is no further threat from the enclave to Israel’s security.
“We are at war, and the war will continue until all our goals are achieved,” he said, adding that the hostages’ return was a “sacred priority and I am committed to it.”
“Before us is a difficult decision, but the right one,” he added. “We will not rest until everyone is returned. The war has stages, and the return of the hostages will have stages.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.