Netanyahu: ‘I can’t promise a hostage deal; Hamas is not even trying to move close to an area of agreement’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a televised evening address on February 29, 2024. (Screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a televised evening address on February 29, 2024. (Screenshot)

Taking questions at his press conference, Netanyahu is asked whether Defense Minister Yoav Gallant consulted with him before declaring yesterday that he would not advance any legislation on the IDF draft that does not resolve the issue of Haredi service to the satisfaction of all coalition parties. Netanyahu is reminded that the last time Gallant spoke out without consulting him — a year ago, when the defense minister warned that national divisions over the judicial overhaul had entered the IDF and constituted a tangible threat to Israeli security — he fired him.

Netanyahu dodges the question, and repeats that “the worst thing that could happen to us is a general election in mid-war,” which would spell “defeat in the war.”

“I am sure that the defense minister is aware of the implications of general elections and the grave danger to the State of Israel” if the war goals are not achieved. “So I’m sure we’ll find a solution.”

He says the IDF has a clear plan for fighting in Rafah, including for evacuating civilians, and that it will be presented to the full cabinet.

Asked about US President Joe Biden reportedly calling him an asshole and saying he is running the war with political considerations in mind, Netanyahu says the White House denied this. “Whether there were such denigrations, or briefings about them,” he adds, “doesn’t influence me in the slightest.”

Asked about National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s efforts to impose restrictions on prayer for Arab Israelis at the Al-Aqsa compound on the Temple Mount during Ramadan, Netanyahu says “There was a preparatory discussion” at which Ben Gvir spoke his mind, and that “we will have an additional discussion at the start of next week.”

“Ultimately, we ensure freedom of worship, in accordance with security conditions. We have no intention of stopping Muslim freedom of worship,” he says. If Israel were not sovereign on Temple Mount, he adds, there would not be freedom of worship for the three faiths.

He says he has discussed his plans for boosting Haredi service with several Haredi MKs, and there are additional contacts. “There is a change [in their mindset] and an understanding that we have to shift to a different phase.” What’s needed is “a framework that will be abided by… I’m optimistic that we can reach an agreement.”

Regarding terrorism in the West Bank, he says that almost 400 terrorists in the West Bank have been eliminated since the start of the war.

Asked about the concern that he has hardened his position on terms for a hostage deal for political reasons, Netanyahu denies this. “We are making every effort to bring about the release of our hostages,” he says.

But, he adds: “We are running into a brick wall of delusional, unrealistic Hamas demands.” Hamas “knows its demands are delusional and is not even trying to move close to an area of agreement. That’s the situation,” he says. “That’s really the situation.”

“We are all hopeful, but I’m giving you the current assessment… We continue to act, continue to hope, but I can’t make a promise at this moment” that a deal will be done, he says, because such a promise would “have no cover.”

He says he greatly admires the head of the Mossad, David Barnea, for his efforts regarding the hostages and generally for Israeli security.

As for complaints against him, Netanyahu says, “If I say ‘Good morning,’ they’ll say I’ve insulted the evening.”

As he has done before, he cites what he says are the “tens of billions” being spent on a vast advertising campaign against him.

He says he is “happy that we are beginning to return residents of the south [to their homes], with school starting in Sderot on Sunday.”

He says he hopes security in the north will be achieved diplomatically, but that it will be achieved by military force if necessary.

Finally, asked again about talk of elections, he says: “If we continue the war, it will come to an end. That’s my goal. First, we have to achieve victory.” But if by contrast, Israel holds elections, “everything will be paralyzed.”

He says “our enemies are only praying” that Israelis will start to fight each other rather than fight them.

“If there is anybody with political goals or considerations it is those people who want to drag the state, in the midst of a war, on the brink of victory, to elections which will deprive us of this victory and bring defeat upon us. That is a political consideration that I will not accept.”

Netanyahu is not asked about today’s incident in northern Gaza involving hundreds of civilian casualties surrounding a convoy of aid trucks.

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