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Times Of Israel
Times Of Israel
16 Dec 2023

NextImg:Pointing to Hamas’s ‘little state’, Netanyahu touts role blocking 2-state solution

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday night that he was “proud” he prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state and took credit for “putting the brakes” on the Oslo peace process, during a press conference at the defense ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Speaking alongside Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, the premier also reiterated his opposition to the Palestinian Authority taking control of Gaza after the war with Hamas ends, adding that “among friends it’s important not to foster illusions,” alluding to Washington’s desire for a “revamped” PA to take control of the coastal enclave.

Netanyahu described the Oslo Accords as “a fateful mistake” and said the results of the “little Palestinian state in Gaza” brought about by the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 demonstrated the danger of allowing Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank.

“I’m proud that I prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state because today everybody understands what that Palestine state could have been, now that we’ve seen the little Palestinian state in Gaza. Everyone understands what would have happened if we had capitulated to international pressures and enabled a state like that in Judea and Samaria, surrounding Jerusalem and on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.”

Criticism of Netanyahu’s comments was swift in coming, with Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer pointing out that Netanyahu had implemented interim agreements of the Oslo peace process in the 1990s; voted in favor of the disengagement from Gaza; carried out the deal to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, in which Hamas’s current leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar was released; and came to an arrangement that allowed Qatari cash to flow to Hamas Gaza during his tenure as prime minister.

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, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Netanyahu insisted that he had “inherited the Oslo Accords,” and that “The decision to bring the PLO from Tunis, and plant it in the heart of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and in Gaza, was a decision made and implemented before I became prime minister” and one he had thought was a mistake.

In his prepared comments earlier, Netanyahu repeated messaging he has used for several weeks now, asserting that he would not allow the PA to control Gaza after the war.

“I will not allow for Hamastan to be switched with Fatahstan, that we exchange Khan Younis for Jenin,” he said, referring to the Palestinian Fatah party, which controls the PA in the West Bank.

“I will not let the State of Israel go back to the fateful mistake of Oslo,” said the prime minister, alleging that Hamas and Fatah do not disagree about wanting to destroy Israel, but only how to do so.

The issue has become a sore point between Jerusalem and Washington, with the US publicly calling for the PA to take over Gaza, once it undergoes a series of reforms.

But the prime minister described the plan as illusory and claimed wide backing for his vision of prolonged Israeli security control over a demilitarized Gaza.

“I don’t even rule out that we can reach an agreement with the United States on this,” he said.

Netanyahu also claimed that the hundreds of millions of dollars from Qatar his governments had allowed into Gaza had not gone to Hamas’s military forces but rather had been used to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in the territory.

“The money didn’t go to strengthen Hamas, it didn’t go to the Hamas military system, it went to stop a humanitarian disaster in Gaza and two million Gazans pouring onto the border, and who knows with what illnesses and infectious diseases,” he said, calling counterclaims a “fiction.”

Forer slammed Netanyahu’s remarks.

MK Oded Forer, chair of the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs Committee, oversees a hearing on Hebrew teacher shortages on January 18, 2023. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

“[Sinwar] was released in 2011 because of Netanyahu’s decision to release 1,027 terrorists, Sinwar among them, in the Shalit deal. Since then, Netanyahu advanced an arrangement with Sinwar at the end of 2018, which led to the entry of hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to Hamas and thus allowed it to increase its power,” said the Yisrael Beytenu MK.

Addressing the accidental killing of three hostages by IDF troops on Friday, the prime minister said lessons would be learned from the incident.

“Alon, Samar, and Yotam survived this horror for 70 days, they were a step away from freedom, they actually touched salvation, and exactly at that point a tragedy happened. It broke my heart, it broke the heart of an entire nation,” he said.

The incident has bolstered calls for Israel to halt the fighting and pursue a deal for the release of the hostages.

Netanyahu insisted however that the war would continue, saying the one comfort that the families of the fallen soldiers might have is that the death of their loved ones would not be in vain by “ensure[ing] that we will continue to fight until we achieve total victory.”

He described Hamas’s demands as an end to the fighting and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

” The minute we capitulate to that, Hamas wins. And we are obligated to eliminate [Hamas] and to get all the hostages back,” he said.

He noted that he had told US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan of his intent to keep fighting until Hamas is eliminated, despite reported pressure from US President Joe Biden’s administration to wrap up “high intensity” fighting and narrow the offensive significantly.

“I say again to our friends: We are more determined than ever to continue until the end – until we eliminate Hamas, until we bring back all our captives, and until we ensure that there will never be any party in Gaza who educates towards terrorism, finances terrorism, and carries out terrorism.”

Gallant also rejected calls to stop fighting in light of the hostage slayings.

“The price of war is a heavy one – we pay it every day, but when you know your goals, when you know that you are fighting for a worthy cause, you know that you have to pay a price,” he said. “And we are willing to keep going until we achieve our goals: destroying the Hamas [terrorist] organization, eliminating its military and governing capabilities and returning the hostages home to their families.”

Gallant said that he had spoken with all the families of the hostages who were killed, describing the calls as “charged, painful, and difficult, first of all for the families, but also for me personally.”

“As Defense Minister, I bear responsibility for everything that takes place in the defense establishment, for everything that takes place during this war – both for the achievements and the prices [we pay], and for the grave mistakes. This was also the case during yesterday’s incident,” he said, calling the outcome the result of “significant errors.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks during a press conference on December 16, 2023. (YouTube screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

But he also noted the complexity of the war zone in the Shejaiya area of Gaza City, describing Hamas fighters “in every house and every alleyway,” and the constant threat of booby traps and potential ambushes.

“You must understand the circumstances and the environment in which our soldiers are operating,” he insisted.

Addressing the threat of Houthi rebels in Yemen to Israel, Gallant said the group was targeting all kinds of shipping, and not just vessels headed to Israel.

“It’s a world problem that also affects Israel,” he said.

He added that the Houthis have fired “dozens of missiles” at Israel, most of which were destroyed, and said Israel would remain on the defensive for the time being, and giving the international community “a chance” to deal with the rebels first.

“We are ready to act. We know what to do. We will find the [right] timing,” Gallant said.