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Netanyahu’s right-wing partners threaten to bolt if hostage deal puts off Rafah op

Smotrich and Ben Gvir raise the stakes amid push for hostage deal

Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich attend a plenum session on forming the government, in the Israeli parliament, on Dec. 29, 2022 (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90).

As negotiations between Israel and Hamas continue regarding the release of Israeli hostages in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing partners have threatened to withdraw their support if these talks result in further delays to the long-planned military incursion into Rafah.

The government will have “no right to exist” unless the Israel Defense Forces invade Rafah, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said. The town in southern Gaza, considered the last major stronghold of the Hamas terrorist organization, is believed to be where most of the remaining hostages are being held.

In a video statement released on 𝕏, Smotrich criticized Netanyahu for considering the new hostage deal proposal that reportedly involves far-reaching Israeli concessions from Israel. He also slammed the prime minister for approving past Egyptian-mediated agreements over the past decades that he claims have allowed Hamas to survive.

“Agreeing to the Egyptian deal is a humiliating surrender and would award victory to the Nazis on the backs of hundreds of heroic IDF soldiers who fell in battle,” the head of the Religious Zionism Party charged.

If the ongoing negotiations with Hamas lead to a hostage deal, Israel will postpone its planned ground incursion into the city of Rafah, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on Saturday.

Smotrich also set an urgent faction meeting for Tuesday to discuss the issue. The Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) party, led by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, is part of the same parliamentary faction. Ben Gvir scheduled an urgent meeting with Netanyahu on Tuesday.

The party stated that the meeting would take place “against the background of the deal being forged and the fact that Israel has not yet entered Rafah.”

Ben Gvir and Smotrich have consistently urged Netanyahu to adopt a more hawkish stance in the Gaza War and to emphasize military strategies to coerce Hamas into agreeing to a hostage deal.

At the moment, their faction holds 14 out of 120 Knesset seats. If they were to make good on their threat and leave the government, Netanyahu would have to rely on Benny Gantz’s National Unity party and its 12 seats to keep his majority.

Gantz, himself, has repeatedly talked about leaving the unity government that he helped to establish by joining the ruling right-wing coalition several days after the Oct. 7 massacre and invasion of Israel's southern border communities by Hamas terrorists.

On Sunday, opposition leader Yair Lapid repeated his offer to support the government if Ben Gvir and Smotrich were to exit the government.

“There is a majority among the people and in the Knesset for deal, and if you need to get rid of Ben Gvir and Smotrich I will give you 24 votes in the government,” Lapid wrote on 𝕏, adding: “We must bring [the hostages] home.”

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

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