Hamas deal divides Israel politicians, seen as ‘great harm’, ‘painful’

Israeli PM clinched the deal with support of far-right coalition partners, who severely criticised the move.

A person stands in front of pictures during a demonstration to demand the liberation of hostages who are being held in the Gaza Strip after they were seized by Hamas gunmen on October 7,
A person stands in front of pictures during a demonstration to demand the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip after they were seized by Hamas gunmen on October 7, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on November 21 [Amir Cohen/Reuters]

Israel’s prime minister managed to secure a truce with Hamas with the backing of the far-right coalition partners he needs to stay in power, but several cabinet members expressed their displeasure at giving the Palestinian group too many concessions.

The agreement between Israel and Hamas reached early on Wednesday, with mediation from Qatar, includes a multi-day truce and the release of 50 hostages being held in Gaza in exchange for 150 Palestinians jailed by Israel, among other measures.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved the truce, hardline members such as Minister for National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir reiterated opposition even after it was announced.

“Hamas wanted this time-out more than anything else,” Ben-Gvir posted on X, and said the pause would give the group time to resupply and reformulate itself, the dpa news agency reported.

Ben-Gvir also said on Wednesday that Israel was repeating the mistakes of the past, referring to a 2011 deal when more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were freed in return for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas for five years.

After one cabinet member said it was important to send a message of unity, Israeli outlet Ynet reported that Ben-Gvir responded: “But we’re not united. This decision will cause us great harm for generations.”

Questions from lawmakers were answered by members of Israel’s military and intelligence establishment, who sought to allay concerns that a pause in the fighting could stunt Israeli momentum after more than a month of relentless strikes on Gaza.

President Isaac Herzog acknowledged that the “reservations are understandable, painful, and difficult,” but added in a statement that given the circumstances he backed the government to move forward with the deal.

“This is a moral and ethical duty that correctly expresses the Jewish and Israeli value of securing the freedom of those held captive, with the hope that it will be the first step in returning all the hostages home,” Herzog said.

Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel on October 7, which Israeli authorities say killed 1,200 people, and kidnapped about 240 people. The deadly assault has shaken Israeli society and divided opinions over the right path forward.

Representatives of the Religious Zionist party, led by right-wing Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, voted in favour of the truce after expressing scepticism.

In a social media post, Settlements and National Missions Minister Orit Strock said that she had voted for the proposal “even though I really didn’t plan to” after “detailed reviews, [and] questions answered thoroughly”.

Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas, but has faced growing scrutiny over actions in Gaza that critics have said constitute indiscriminate punishment of the besieged enclave’s population.

Netanyahu has made clear that the agreement does not mean the war will stop, and vowed that the Israeli military will press on after the pause in fighting.

Israel has cut off access to food, fuel, and electricity for Gaza’s more than 2.3 million residents and wiped out entire neighbourhoods in an assault that Palestinian authorities say has killed more than 14,000 people, with more than 5,600 of them children.

As conditions in Gaza reach breaking point, pressure had built for a pause in the fighting to allow humanitarian assistance into the beleaguered Gaza Strip.

Some Israelis, including those who lost loved ones or continue to await their return after being kidnapped during the attack, also called on the government to prioritise the return of the hostages.

“People were not abducted abroad. They were abducted here, in Israel, from their beds,” said Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem, a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party. “A huge failure took place here. Therefore, we must bring them back.”

Israel’s high court on Wednesday rejected a petition by the Almagor Terror Victims Association that said the deal would pose a threat to the country’s security, according to Israeli media reports.

The petition argued that releasing some captives, but not all, violated the right to equality, according to The Times of Israel. It had called for a delay in the agreement’s implementation until the government could prove that the truce did not endanger the lives of Israelis.

A 24-hour period in which the Israeli public could register legal objections to the government-approved deal had started on Tuesday night.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies