Netanyahu lashes out at western allies over Gaza strategy


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Benjamin Netanyahu has lashed out at sharp criticism from western allies of Israel’s strategy in Gaza, accusing them of seeking to orchestrate elections that would “paralyse” the country and lead to its defeat in the war against Hamas.

Addressing a government meeting before scheduled talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday, the Israeli Prime Minister vowed to resist the intensifying international pressure, especially from the White House, to delay an offensive into the city of Rafah on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip.

He also responded directly to criticism made last week by US senator Chuck Schumer, in which America’s most prominent Jewish politician said Netanyahu’s hard-right government needed to be replaced to avoid Israel becoming a “pariah”.

The Israeli leader accused the international community of having a “short memory” about the brutal toll of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed and about 240 taken hostage, according to Israeli authorities.

“Have you so quickly forgotten October 7, the most horrific massacre of Jews since the Holocaust?” he said. “Are you so quick to deny Israel the right to defend itself against the Hamas monsters? Have you so quickly lost your moral consciences?”

Without naming Schumer, Netanyahu said some in the international community were “trying to stop the war now . . . by hurling false accusations at the Israel Defense Forces, the government of Israel and the prime minister of Israel.

“They are doing so by means of an effort to bring about elections now, at the height of the war,” he said. “They are doing this because they know that elections now will halt the war and paralyse the country for at least six months.”

He told CNN in an interview aired on Sunday that Schumer’s comments were “totally inappropriate”.

A protester holds a sign that reads ‘Chuck Schumer, Thanks’ during a rally in Tel Aviv calling for the release of Israeli hostages
A sign referring to Chuck Schumer’s remarks is held by a demonstrator during a rally in Tel Aviv calling for the release of Israeli hostages © Alexi J Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Since the Hamas assault, Netanyahu has overseen a war in Gaza in which almost 32,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, have died, according to local authorities. Israel claims to have killed at least 10,000 Hamas fighters.

In his remarks on Thursday, Schumer said Netanyahu had been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza and was pushing support for Israel worldwide to “historic lows”, hurting Israel’s “political and moral fabric” and being an “obstacle to peace”.

Schumer’s criticism capped weeks of frustration with Netanyahu from US President Joe Biden and many in the Democratic party, stemming from the Israeli leader’s refusal to discuss a two-state solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict and to delay an offensive into Rafah without a clear plan to protect more than 1mn Palestinian civilians seeking shelter there.

The Israeli premier has capitalised on the public rift by appealing to the hard-right base in his coalition, presenting himself as a leader able to resist international, and especially US, pressure.

His latest comments came as he prepared to meet Scholz, who said after meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday morning that if Israel’s looming offensive in Rafah resulted in large civilian casualties, it would make regional peace “very difficult”.

The German chancellor said: “Israel has every right to protect itself. At the same time, it cannot be that those in Gaza who fled to Rafah are directly threatened by whatever military actions and operations are undertaken there.”

Netanyahu vowed on Sunday that an offensive in Rafah would take place, without setting a date. Israel’s war cabinet is scheduled to meet on Sunday evening to discuss parallel hostage swap negotiations taking place in Doha between Israeli and Qatari mediators, in addition to a plan to move Palestinian civilians out of the IDF path.

The proposal under discussion would require Israel to accept a temporary ceasefire in return for the freeing of most of the remaining civilians in Hamas captivity and to agree to a surge in humanitarian aid into the besieged enclave and the release of a large number of Palestinian prisoners, including those convicted of attacking Israeli citizens.

“No international pressure will stop us from realising all of the goals of the war [and] in order to do this, we will operate in Rafah,” said Netanyahu.

“To this end, we have approved the operational plans for action in Rafah, including advancing the steps to evacuate the civilian population from the combat zones.”

Additional reporting by Olaf Storbeck in Frankfurt