Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly stated for the first time in the war against Hamas that Israel does not seek to displace Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, after a growing number of regional leaders expressed fears that this was Jerusalem’s ulterior motive.
“We don’t seek to displace anyone,” Netanyahu told Fox News in an interview on Thursday night.
“What we’re trying to do is get the Gazans in the northern part of the Gaza Strip where the fighting has taken place to move one to four miles south where we have established a safe zone,” the prime minister continued. “We want to see field hospitals. We’re encouraging and enabling humanitarian help to go there. That’s how we’re fighting this war.”
He also provided new details regarding Israel’s vision for what Gaza will look like after the war. “What we have to see is Gaza demilitarized, deradicalized and rebuilt. All of that can be achieved,” Netanyahu said.
“We don’t seek to conquer Gaza. We don’t seek to occupy Gaza. And we don’t seek to govern Gaza,” the premier added. Still he did not fall fully in line with US President Joe Biden’s administration, which has expressed its desire for the Palestinian Authority to return to govern Gaza in a manner that will reunite the territory with the West Bank politically and pave the way toward a two-state solution.
Netanyahu, whose government has an acrimonious relationship with the PA, said, without specifying, that Israel will “have to find a civilian government that will be there.”
He added, “In the foreseeable future… We have to have a credible force that, if necessary, will enter Gaza and kill the killers. That’s what will prevent the emergence of another Hamas-like entity.”
The Thursday interview is the second Netanyahu has given to American media this week, after he avoided any interviews for much of the first month after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, when some 3,000 terrorists stormed into Israel, killing an estimated 1,400 people, and taking at least 240 hostages. Israel then declared war on Hamas, whose twin goals, Israel says, are the destruction of the Gaza terror group and the return of the hostages.
Netanyahu appeared to elaborate on what he told ABC News on Monday, when he said Israel will have “overall security responsibility” over the Gaza Strip “for an indefinite period” after the war against Hamas ends.
“But what I expect to see is a rebuilt Gaza for the Gazans,” Netanyahu told Fox News.
During the interview, the prime minister also confirmed that Israel has agreed to implement pauses in IDF operations in specific areas of northern Gaza to allow Palestinian civilians to evacuate.
“The fighting continues against the Hamas terrorists, but in specific locations for a given period of a few hours… We want to facilitate a safe passage of civilians away from the zone of fighting, and we’re doing that,” he said.
Netanyahu continued to avoid using the “humanitarian pause” term being employed by the Biden administration, in an apparent effort to downplay concessions seen as less palatable to many Israelis, as long as Hamas continues to hold some 240 hostages. But a senior Israeli official who briefed The Times of Israel earlier on Thursday acknowledged that formalized humanitarian pauses are exactly what Jerusalem agreed to.
Netanyahu also reiterated that Israel will not agree to a more long-term ceasefire until the hostages are released.
The “tactical, localized” pauses that Israel agreed to implement each day will build on the humanitarian corridor that the IDF began to operate on Sunday to allow Gazans to evacuate from northern to southern Gaza, away from the most intense areas of fighting, the senior Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The new four-hour pauses will take place in a different northern Gaza neighborhood each day, with residents notified three hours ahead of time.
They will be able to use this time to either evacuate to the south via the two humanitarian corridors that Israel has established or to leave their homes to restock food, medicine and other aid, the senior Israeli official said.
Speaking to Fox News, Netanyahu downplayed talk of a disagreement between him and Biden after the US president told reporters that “it’s taken a little longer than [he] had hoped” to coax the Israeli premier to agree to a days-long humanitarian pause.
“Well, it’s taken a little longer than I had hoped,” Netanyahu responded after being played a clip of Biden’s remarks during the interview.
“I hoped we could do it very fast, but we have battled conditions on the ground, the safety of our own forces, the hostages we want to get out and the humanitarian corridors we want to [operate], which, as I said, Hamas is preventing by using its own fire… preventing Palestinian civilians from leaving,” he said.
“It’s taken a little while, but I think we share a common goal, and I very much appreciate the support that President Biden has shown, the administration has shown, the American people have shown and Congress on both sides of the aisle,” he added.
On the topic of congressional support, Netanyahu hailed the US House of Representatives for censuring Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan for using the slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” along with other anti-Israel rhetoric since the October 7 Hamas onslaught.
“From the river to the sea means there’s no Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean,” Netanyahu said.
“What this congresswoman is calling for is… genocide, the elimination of the one and only state of the Jewish people. That’s absurd, and I salute the Congress for censuring her,” he added.
He also criticized pro-Palestinian protesters around the world, saying they are expressing support for Hamas, which Western leaders have echoed Israel in likening to ISIS and the Nazis.
“They’re lining up with ISIS, with Al-Qaeda, with these murderers, with these baby burners, with these rapists, with these mutilators, with these head choppers — this is what they’re aligning themselves with.
“Can our world survive if people with such moral depravity go and support these murderers?” Netanyahu added. “This is an indictment of higher education in many places in the West, where people who are supposedly educated cannot distinguish right from wrong and good from evil. Hamas is evil and we have to defeat evil, not protest and demonstrate on behalf of evil.”
Despite the ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza, and the condemnation Israel has faced from Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu told Fox News that conditions for a normalization deal with Riyadh “will be even riper” after Israel accomplishes its war aim of destroying Hamas.
“I think there’s a test now for the forces of civilization and progress against the forces of medievalism who want to take us back to the Dark Ages,” he said, adding that Israel is committed to victory and that it would be a victory for the US and the “moderate Arab states” as well.
“Once we achieve that, the promise of peace that we first [saw] in the Abraham Accords and were about to expand further with peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia — I think it will be a reality,” the premier said. “I think conditions will be ripe. In fact, after a victory, I think they’ll be even riper.”
For their part, Saudi officials have not stepped away from the normalization talks either, and both Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman agreed in October to eventually “build on” the US-brokered negotiations after the conclusion of the war.
The prime minister previously went on a media blitz to various American media outlets to try to soothe criticism of his government’s now-frozen judicial overhaul, but has blackballed mainstream Israeli media since taking office last December, a strategy that has largely shielded him from having to answer critics.