Netanyahu: Danger of another Oct. 7 is over; Moody’s downgrade not an economic failure; we don’t need elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at his office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at his office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At his press conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is asked about his handling of the hostage negotiations and his reported failure to consult with war cabinet colleagues Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot before deciding not to send Israel’s negotiators back to Cairo after initial talks there this week.

He says “we took a decision” not to return to the talks after Israel went a long way as regards the terms it was ready to accept but “got nothing in return” except Hamas’s “delusional” demands. These included “demands regarding the Temple Mount, demands to end the war and leave Hamas intact, demands to withdraw from Gaza, demands to free thousands of murderers.”

He says that despite those demands, he had “accepted a request” from US President Joe Biden to send an Israeli delegation to Cairo at the start of the week. He says he instructed the Israeli team to “sit and listen” — and that this approach had been approved by the cabinet.

“There was no change” in the Hamas position, he says. So the delegation came back home, “and obviously there was no change in the instruction: There was no point in going [back] there [to Cairo], until we see a change.”

He says this reflected the war cabinet’s policy, and adds: “I’m running a give and take [negotiation], not a give and give.”

Asked whether relations with the US would be easier were Donald Trump in power, as his son Yair and others have claimed, he says Israel is working with the US president and the administration,  and “we appreciate the support we have received. There is a lot we agree on and there are things we disagree on. My policy is much more simple: I don’t get involved in internal US politics. I do insist on the demands of our state. When it’s possible, I say yes. When it’s necessary, I say no.”

He is asked about Moody’s decision to downgrade Israel’s credit rating for the first time ever, whether he will rethink the state budget, and if he will accept responsibility for this “economic failure.”

“I don’t think at all that there’s been an economic failure here. Israel’s macroeconomic data are very good,” he says, again insisting the downgrade was first and foremost due to the Israel-Hamas war and will rise again once the fighting is over.

He also addresses the prospect of elections, saying they will be held as scheduled “in another few years.”

“The last thing we need right now is elections,” he says, arguing that voting for a new Knesset would divide Israelis and therefore be a boon to Hamas. “What we need now is unity. That’s not spin… There’s another quarter of Hamas’s organized fighting force to destroy. We will destroy it… We are taking apart their underground infrastructure. We have brought back more than half of the hostages and we will bring the rest.”

This is not the time for politics, he says. “I suggest everyone wait patiently.”

He is asked when and whether he will formally announce to residents of communities close to Gaza that it is safe to return home.

He says financial arrangements have been agreed on, and the Defense Ministry will soon issue a clear statement regarding the security situation.

“There is never a situation of ‘no danger,'” he says. “But the danger of a ground invasion of the kind that happened on October 7 is not real, that’s clear to you. Hamas is deep in the tunnels. Someone can always get through the fence. But that [kind of] mass military terrorist invasion is off the table. And we will not let it return.”

As for mortar, rocket and missile fire, “it is always possible.” But Israel has destroyed a “huge proportion” of Hamas’s capacities in this regard. “I’m not saying it’s impossible” for such fire to happen. That’s why the possibility of residents returning to their homes in the south is close at hand, he says, while the situation in the north still has to be resolved.

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