ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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Lapid: Best option for post-Hamas Gaza is a return to Palestinian Authority control

Slamming foreign media for quickly accepting Hamas claims on blast at Al-Ahli Hospital, opposition leader argues attempts at creating ‘balance’ between the sides are wrongheaded

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaks to media in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2023 (Elad Gutman/Office of Yair Lapid)
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaks to media in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2023 (Elad Gutman/Office of Yair Lapid)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said Thursday he believed the best solution for a post-Hamas Gaza Strip would be returning the coastal enclave to the control of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

“I think in the end the best thing is that the Palestinian Authority goes back into Gaza,” he said in response to a Times of Israel question at a media briefing in Tel Aviv, on the 13th day of Israel’s war against the terror group that rules the enclave.

“It’s not ideal, and if you ask me what the exit strategy should be, it should be helping the international community help [the Palestinian Authority take control],” he added. “This is the way things were before.”

Hamas ousted the PA from Gaza in 2007 in a violent coup, and now runs the Strip as a statelet autonomous from PA control. The PA is seated in the West Bank’s city of Ramallah and controls West Bank cities and villages, though its rule has become increasingly tenuous amid accusations of corruption, weakness and collaboration with Israel.

Promising that “we will not rest until Hamas is gone,” Lapid clarified that “we have a fight with Hamas, not with the people of Gaza.”

Israel has been engaged in a war with Hamas since the terror organization led an unprecedented deadly assault on Israeli communities on October 7. On that day, some 2,500 terrorists blasted through the Israeli border fence, streamed into Israel under a barrage of thousands of rockets and killed some 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians. Terrorists also took more than 200 hostages of all ages into Gaza.

The Yesh Atid party head made the comments during a briefing to the international press, which he slammed for perceived bias regarding Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas.

Supporters of Palestinian terror group Hamas chant slogans during a protest in support of Gaza in Nablus, in the West Bank on October 18, 2023. (Thomas COEX / AFP)

In particular, Lapid attacked the media for being quick to adopt the terror organization’s narrative that Israel had been responsible for a deadly blast at a Gaza hospital, while growing evidence has pointed to the explosion being the result of a misfired Palestinian rocket aimed at Israel.

Hamas said the explosion killed up to 500 people. Photo evidence has pointed to the blast occurring in the hospital’s parking lot, with no buildings destroyed.

Arab and Muslim countries quickly denounced Israel. None have retracted their condemnation.

US President Joe Biden, based on a Pentagon report and Israeli intelligence, said on Wednesday that the previous evening’s blast had likely been the doing of a Palestinian terror group.

The foreign press largely characterized the attack as a likely Israeli strike in the hours following the deadly explosion, citing Hamas. It has increasingly presented Israel’s position since it steadfastly denied involvement, though many Israeli commentators and public figures say it has done so far less readily and while expressing greater skepticism than it did toward Hamas’s assertions.

“Do you think an organization that has no problem butchering babies, butchering pregnant women and abducting a 14-year-old autistic girl with her 80-year-old grandmother, has any problem lying?” the opposition leader asked reporters. “Hamas lies as a policy.”

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaks to media in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2023 (Elad Gutman/Office of Yair Lapid)

Criticizing international coverage of the incident, Lapid added: “Of all the distortions of the press coverage of these past days, the worst one is [the attempt at] ‘balance.'” He said the story of a democratic country and a terror group should not be presented “equally.”

“What happened in the hospital was that the lie was only out there for half an hour, but half an hour was enough — it’s when people set their minds,” Lapid said. (Israel actually took several hours to issue a denial of the strike while saying it was looking into the matter, apparently taking the time to ensure no error had been made.)

He complained that even after Israel had produced multiple pieces of evidence to support its denial of involvement, media outlets “went to a ‘balanced’ version, which is also a lie.”

“Someone blasted the hospital, and that was Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” he said.

As news of the blast proliferated on Tuesday evening, riots and mass protests broke out in Jordan and other countries and Hezbollah called for a global day of jihad, while Jordan canceled a scheduled Wednesday summit with Biden, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Israel arranged evacuation flights to repatriate citizens from Turkey, while issuing a travel warning of the highest threat level to the country.

While Lapid said that the current war was “forced upon us” because Israel “can no longer live” alongside “a murderous terror organization,” he lamented that early global support for Israel has rapidly eroded.

“It is interesting and shocking how quickly the world has moved on” from the massacre of October 7, he said. “Israel was given barely a week of sympathy and global shock. And then the world went back to attacking us for defending ourselves,” he said.

Palestinian demonstrators hold Hamas flags and chant slogans during a protest against Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Wednesday, Oct 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

“I want to remind you: the horrors of October 7 have nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Lapid said.

“The terrorists are not part of the struggle for a Palestinian state. Hamas doesn’t care about that. Just like Islamic State and al-Qaeda, they don’t want any agreement with anyone,” the opposition leader said.

“They want to kill Jews because they are Jews, and Christians because they are Christian, moderate Muslims because they are moderate,” he continued.

The opposition leader reaffirmed that he has ended talks to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency government, but said that he is coordinated with the government to support the war effort through public diplomacy and visits to affected communities.

“In many ways, we are working better with the government than elements of the coalition itself,” he said, in answer to a question as to whether some elements of Netanyahu’s government were treating the war as an election campaign.

“People who are dealing with their own politics in times like these don’t deserve to be called patriots, let alone nationalists,” he said, presumably directing his comments at National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has been under criticism for incendiary comments in recent days.

Hamas on Thursday called for West Bank Palestinians to “continue to mobilize and to intensify any resistance work” in the PA-governed territory.

Israel is preparing for an expected ground invasion of northern Gaza, while warning all residents to flee southward.

Israel’s air campaign in the Gaza Strip has killed more than 3,500 people, including combatants, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. Israel is facing increased pressure to enable humanitarian aid to flow into the enclave, and has said it will enable aid to arrive to the south as well as the establishment of safe zones for civilians.

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