Poll: Majority of Israelis support prioritizing hostage deal over Rafah operation

56 percent of Jewish Israelis would prefer an agreement over invading Hamas’s final remaining stronghold in Gaza, Israel Democracy Institute finds

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"

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, May 8, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, May 8, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A majority of Israelis believe that reaching a hostage deal with Hamas should be the country’s top national priority — more important than launching a military operation against the terror group in Rafah, according to polling by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI).

A survey of 750 people, conducted in Hebrew and Arabic over May 1-5, found that 56 percent of Jewish Israelis prioritize reaching a deal over invading Hamas’s final remaining stronghold in Gaza, while 37% believe military action should take precedence.

Among those on the left and center, 92.5% and 78%, respectively, support prioritizing a deal, while 55% of those on the political right prefer launching an operation.

Among Arab Israelis, 88.5% prefer a deal to a ground incursion in Rafah.

A previous poll released by the IDI in February found 51% of Israelis prioritizing the hostages’ return over toppling Hamas as the country’s primary war aim in Gaza.

At the time, 47% of Jewish Israelis expressed support for prioritizing the return of the hostages and 42% said that removing Hamas from power should take precedence. Only 8% of Arab Israelis said that they considered the defeat of Hamas to be a higher priority.

An IDF tank crushing an ‘I love Gaza’ sign at the Gazan side of the Rafah-Egypt border crossing. (X screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Israeli tanks rolled into the southern Gaza Strip early Tuesday, capturing the Palestinian side of the Rafah Crossing on the Egypt border, in what the military called a “pinpoint operation” against the Hamas terror group.

The ground incursion in the eastern part of Rafah came after Jerusalem said a truce offer from Hamas the previous day did not meet its demands, and announced that it had okayed moving ahead with the long-threatened offensive.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel that it was a “limited operation” aimed at pressuring Hamas to accept a deal.

Visiting troops on the southern part of the Gaza border, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vows that the operation in Rafah “will not stop until Hamas is eliminated in the area or the first hostage returns to Israel” — presumably meaning until a deal is reached and starts being implemented.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks with artillery forces on the Gaza border, across from Rafah, May 7, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

In a video message on Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the latest Hamas proposal for a ceasefire deal was “meant to sabotage the entry of our forces into Rafah.”

The Rafah operation is meant to bring back the hostages and to eliminate Hamas, said Netanyahu. “We already proved in the previous hostage release — military pressure on Hamas is a precondition for the return of the hostages.”

He said he had instructed the Israeli negotiating team currently in Cairo to “stand firmly” on Israel’s conditions for the release of the hostages and on its security demands.

Israel is continuing in parallel its military campaign against Hamas, Netanyahu explained.

Emanuel Fabian and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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