After canceling top aides’ trip to Washington, Netanyahu now seeking to reschedule

White House reveals PM’s reversal hours after he tells visiting Republican senator that he canceled delegation following US’s ‘very, very bad’ decision not to veto UN resolution

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounces the US failure to veto a UN Security Council ceasefire and hostage resolution, while hosting Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida at his Jerusalem office, March 27, 2024 (Youtube screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounces the US failure to veto a UN Security Council ceasefire and hostage resolution, while hosting Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida at his Jerusalem office, March 27, 2024 (Youtube screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office reached out to the White House, asking to reschedule a meeting regarding a potential Israeli operation in Rafah, which the premier canceled earlier this week, a US official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

Netanyahu’s office denied granting final authorization for any such trip, but an Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the reports were “not wrong” and that Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi would likely travel to Washington when the meeting was finalized.

The US official said the sides were working on a new date for the inter-agency meeting that was supposed to be held on Wednesday with Dermer and Hanegbi.

They also noted that top Biden officials National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and CIA chief Bill Burns held “constructive” meetings with visiting Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and that Rafah was a key topic of discussion.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters later Wednesday that Netanyahu “has agreed to reschedule the meeting dedicated to Rafah,” and that “we’re now working with them to find a convenient date.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu defended canceling the trip to Washington as a protest of the Biden administration’s decision to allow the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate Gaza ceasefire and hostage release.

Hosting Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida at his Jerusalem office on Wednesday, Netanyahu said he thought the US decision not to veto the resolution was “very, very bad.”

“The bad thing about the US decision… was it encouraged Hamas to take a hard line and to believe that international pressure will prevent Israel from freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas,” he said.

He insisted his move was “a message to Hamas: ‘Don’t bet on this pressure, it’s not going to work.’ I hope they got the message.”

This handout photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with US Senator Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, at his office in Jerusalem on March 27, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)

A senior US official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that Hamas’s rejection of the latest hostage deal was issued before the resolution that Washington allowed to pass, blaming Netanyahu for playing politics with his claims.

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina downplayed the growing tensions between the Biden White House and the Israeli prime minister, saying that the situation “is not as bad as it seems.”

“I know it seems bad, but I’m there on the ground. There’s a lot of common view in the Senate that Israel has to destroy Hamas militarily,” he explained, adding that the fight over the UN Security Council resolution “will be behind us soon.”

“Israel cannot afford to let Hamas or anyone else know that there will be a pause in fighting for 30 seconds without the hostages being released,” he said, backing Israeli frustration over the US not using its veto.

Asked by The Times of Israel about the potential for the White House to slow down arms deliveries to Israel to pressure it to change its policies in Gaza, Graham said that “there would be a violent reaction in the Congress if there was a whiff of any suggestion that we’re slowing down arms to Israel when it’s in a fight for its very existence.”

He said he had not heard about any plans to delay or halt weapons shipments.

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, speaks in Jerusalem, March 27, 2024. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

Graham also told reporters that accusations that Israel is using starvation as a tool of war in Gaza are “bullshit.”

“You’re talking about an accusation that is just a blood libel,” continued Graham.

“Never in the history of warfare have I seen such an effort by one of the protagonists in a war to lessen the effect on the population of the other side,” argued Graham, who met with Netanyahu and war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz, and spoke with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi by phone earlier in the day.

“The Israeli military and government, in my view, are making incredible efforts in a time of war to make sure that innocent Palestinians can have the basics of life,” he said. “I know it is miserable in Gaza. I’m sure it is. But the food is flowing. Healthcare is flowing the best it can.”

“The Israeli people through their military and elected officials have chosen to help the Palestinian people,” he said, responding directly to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who told his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant that protecting Palestinians was a “moral imperative.”

“Was there a moral imperative in World War II by the United States to lessen casualties in Germany and Japan?” Graham asked. “If you had told the American people after Pearl Harbor, you need to come up with a plan to feed civilian populations and lessen casualties at the expense of military victory, you would have been run out of town.”

The senator, in Israel on his fourth trip since October 7, said he was briefed on the Israeli plan to evacuate civilians sheltering around Rafah, and that it is “very impressive.”

Palestinians check the rubble of buildings that were destroyed following overnight Israeli strikes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 27, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Graham also said that UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, is “dead to the Congress” and “dead to the United States.”

“For decades now, Palestinian children have been taught through UNRWA and other agencies to kill all the Jews,” Graham said of the agency, which is facing intense scrutiny for the involvement of some of its employees in the October 7 attacks.

“Somebody needs to pull the Palestinian school system up by its roots and destroy it,” Graham added. He also said that the Palestinian Authority, “as it exists today, in my view, is not a legitimate partner for the State of Israel.”

Graham said that he is hopeful that through a normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, Arab countries “will begin to change the Palestinian trajectory, that they will replace old and corrupt with newer leaders, that they will come up with a new governing formula for the West Bank and Gaza that Israel would have somebody to talk to about the future of the Palestinian people.”

IDF soldiers take up position as they enter the UNRWA headquarters, where the military discovered tunnels underneath the UN agency that the military says Hamas terrorists used to attack its forces during a ground operation in Gaza, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

On the desire by some Israelis to establish settlements in Gaza, Graham said that it would “not be a practical solution that would have much support anywhere.”

He argued that the best plan for the day after Hamas is to let Arab states “take ownership of the Palestinian file in a fashion to demilitarize the West Bank and Gaza, and to come up with a plan to deradicalize the populations.”

The war in Gaza broke out on October 7 after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims that more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in the war, but the number cannot be independently verified, as it is believed to include both Hamas terrorists and civilians, some of whom were killed as a consequence of the terror group’s own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 terrorists in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 who were killed inside Israel on and immediately following October 7.

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