Senior Israeli Minister Admits to Emerging Israel-Hamas Deal, Says His Party Will Vote Against It

This is the first time a member of the security cabinet has admitted that a cease-fire agreement with Hamas is on the table ■ 'Hamas will become Hezbollah 2,' Naftali Bennett warns

Education Minister Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, March 2018
Olivier Fitoussi

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday that his party, the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi, will vote against the slated cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas.  

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that if the calm on the Gaza border is maintained throughout the night, the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza will open Wednesday morning, and Israel will extend the fishing area to 9 miles from the shore, back from the 6 miles it had restricted it to following airborne firebombs from Gaza.

>> Read More: Israeli defense minister: If Gaza remains quiet, border crossing to reopen Wednesday morning ■ Analysis: Palestinian protesters in Gaza: Don’t wound us – kill us

Lieberman's gestures to Hamas are a mistake - Habayit Hayehudi ministers will vote against the Israel-Hamas agreement," he said.

This is the first time a member of Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet has admitted that such an agreement is on the table.

Following an escalation in hostilities between Israel and Gaza beginning on Wednesday, a foreign diplomat told Haaretz that Israel and Hamas reached a cease-fire late Thursday. Foreign media reported the same, and quiet has ensued since that reported cease-fire was reached, but Israel has denied all reports of such an agreement being reached.

Netanyahu's office said that the calm is a result of a unilateral cease-fire by Hamas, adding that at no stage since the escalation Thursday did Israel promise mediators from the UN and Egypt that it would stop firing or that it wouldn't respond if firing resumed.

Bennett, who is also the diaspora affairs minister, said that such an agreement "is a prize for 130 days of terrorist rockets, snipers and incendiary balloons." Bennett warned that a temporary peace agreement will allow Hamas to rearm and become stronger for the next round.

Bennett explained that "This 'quiet' will give Hamas total immunity as it replenishes tens of thousands of rockets that will threaten all parts of the country and allow them to launch a war against Israel at the time and under the conditions that are convenient for them. This will ultimately lead to the opening of two dangerous fronts, north and south, at a time determined by the enemy."

"We must not reward the terrorists without them returning our captives and our fallen soldiers. The terrorists will learn that terror pays off and Israel's deterrence will be harmed."

Sources familiar with the details of the negotiation told Haaretz that "Bennett is acting irresponsibly driven by petty political considerations. As soon as the other side hears such statements about the captives, they understand they have an advantage. Bennett understands the repercussions and does it anyway."

Bennett suggested that he has an alternative plan for "rooting out terror," saying that "there is an alternative for ground troops entering Gaza, which we oppose. We have initiated a plan and have submitted it to the relevant security forums, at this stage it has not yet been accepted." Bennett warned that a temporary cease-fire agreement would make Hamas a "Hezbollah 2."

The Yisrael Beiteinu party said in response to Bennett: "As per usual, Minister Bennett runs to the media with empty statements that are no more than petty politics at the expense of the IDF and the security establishment. He should instead deal with the rising violence in schools."

168 Palestinian protesters have been killed in clashes along the Gaza border since the end of March, when the weekly "March of Return" protests began, according to the Gaza health ministry.