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Israel’s leadership divided over stopping the war in exchange for hostage release

National Unity party pushes for comprehensive hostage deal

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Yoav Galant, and Minister Benny Gantz attend a press conference at the Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv. Dec. 16, 2023. Photo by Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90

With an estimated 136 Israeli hostages remaining in captivity in the Gaza Strip after 100 days of war, Israel’s leadership is increasingly divided over the best way to bring about their release, according to Israeli media.

In recent discussions, officials were torn between prioritizing the destruction of Hamas’ military capabilities versus the return of the hostages, Israel’s Channel 12 news reported.

Minister Gadi Eisenkot, who is also an observing member of the War Cabinet, reportedly demanded to advance new Israeli offers to reach another hostage release deal with Hamas, even at the price of a halt to the fighting in Gaza.

Israeli officials repeatedly emphasized that both goals would be pursued at the same time, while also saying that the hostages’ return was the top priority of the war.

“We can’t continue blindly in the same format, while the abductees are there. This is a critical time to make brave decisions, otherwise we don’t belong here,” Eisenkot said in a discussion on Sunday.

“We will have to stop lying to ourselves, show courage, and lead to a big deal that will bring the hostages home. Their time is running out and every day that passes puts their lives at risk,” the former IDF chief of staff added.

Eisenkot's son Gal, a combat medic, fell in battle in Gaza on the eve of Hanukkah and his nephew Maor Cohen Eisenkot died just two days later while fighting in Jabaliya.

On the opposite side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant continue to believe that only military pressure will move Hamas to release more hostages.

The terror group recently announced that the only acceptable price for the release of the hostages would be a full stop to the fighting and an Israeli retreat from Gaza.

“There is no dispute as to the goal and its priority - but what will bring the hostages is the same military pressure that brought back the hostage we have already returned. Hamas won’t talk to us about anything if we don’t press them,” Gallant answered Eisenkot.

Eisenkot received support from his party’s chairman and War Cabinet member Benny Gantz, as well as from Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri, who is seen as a confidant of Netanyahu, often siding with him.

Deri noted that it isn’t enough to publicly declare the return of the hostages as the highest priority but that the government should take political action toward that goal, especially because the fighting is expected to take several more months.

The following day, National Unity Knesset Member Matan Kahan publicly supported his party colleagues, Eisenkot and Gantz.

“The hostages don’t have time, the war with Hamas will be long. Therefore, it would be right to go for deals even if the prices are painful,” Kahana told Kan Reshet Bet Radio.

In response to the reports, sources close to Gantz and Eisenkot's entourage stated: “Until today there were no leaks from the internal discussions of the political echelon, and it is very important for Israel’s security that there not be any in the future.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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