behind the scenes

Gallant slams Netanyahu’s ‘reckless and irresponsible’ politicization of hostage deal

Israel's defense minister warned: 'This is a sensitive time. We must make a deal to return the hostages'

Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stand during an honor cordon at the Pentagon on June 25, 2024 in Arlington, Virginia.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused one another of endangering efforts to secure the release of the remaining hostages in a heated cabinet meeting on Sunday, after advances in the negotiations between Israel and Hamas, Jewish Insider has learned.

Netanyahu said that Gallant’s opposition to the coalition’s Haredi conscription bill jeopardizes a hostage deal by destabilizing the government, while Gallant said it was “reckless and irresponsible” for the prime minister to tie the two matters together.

The cabinet was set to vote on extending mandatory IDF service to 36 months and increasing the retirement age from reserve duty by one year. The request, Gallant said, reflected a wartime need for more manpower. 

Yet ministers in Likud argued with Gallant about a different bill to conscript Haredim into the IDF. Netanyahu and Haredi parties in the coalition back a proposal that would not conscript any more Haredim this year, while slowly increasing target numbers each year going forward and cut funding for yeshivas whose students do not enlist in the IDF. Several Likud lawmakers have said they do not support the current bill, but Gallant was the only member of the party to vote against it. The defense minister has said he is looking to advance legislation with broad support in the coalition and opposition, to ensure more Haredim serve.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi told Gallant that his position “will bring down the government, which will harm national security and give [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar a victory.”

“Broad consensus is a code name for giving [former war cabinet minister Benny] Gantz an opening to bring down the government,” Karhi said, according to Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster. Gantz departed the war cabinet last month in part over disagreements with Netanyahu over the Haredi draft law.

Gallant responded that “the threats are increasing and the number of soldiers is declining. How do you want the IDF to continue fighting?”

After a continued back-and-forth between Gallant and Karhi, Netanyahu intervened, calling the defense minister’s position “cynical politicization.”

“Bringing down the government because of the [Haredi] enlistment law will stop the release of hostages,” Netanyahu said, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

Gallant responded: “This is a sensitive time. We must make a deal to return the hostages. The political attempt to tie the hostage release and an exemption from conscription for Haredim is reckless and irresponsible.” 

The dispute in the cabinet meeting came after a weekend in which Israel sent Mossad chief David Barnea and a team to Doha to negotiate a deal after Hamas reportedly dropped its demand for an Israeli commitment to end the war from the beginning of a cease-fire. In a sign of his growing distrust in the defense establishment, Netanyahu sent his diplomatic adviser, Ophir Falk, to observe the talks, while IDF and Shin Bet representatives remained in Israel.

Netanyahu’s office said on Sunday that “any deal will allow Israel to resume fighting until all of the objectives of the war have been achieved. … The plan that has been agreed to by Israel and has been welcomed by President [Joe] Biden will allow Israel to return hostages without infringing on the other objectives of the war.” Those objectives include the destruction of Hamas’s ability to threaten Israel and rule Gaza.

In addition, the Prime Minister’s Office said that “Israel will maximize the number of living hostages who will be released from Hamas captivity” as part of the deal. 

The agreement would also include an end to weapons smuggling to Hamas from Egypt and bar the “return of thousands of armed terrorists” to northern Gaza.

The agreement being discussed would have the parties begin with a 42-day cease-fire, during which between 18-33 Israeli hostages, including women, children, elderly and injured, would be freed. Israel would release 30 living Palestinian terrorists from prison in exchange for each living hostage released, including terrorists with longer sentences in exchange for female soldiers. Dead terrorists would be traded for the bodies of hostages. 

The sides would return to negotiations up to 16 days into the cease-fire. Two of the areas still in dispute in the negotiations are what would be negotiated in the second stage, and whether a cease-fire would go on indefinitely as the second stage of negotiations continues.

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.