Netanyahu: Perception of tension in US-Israel ties harms hostage deal talks; war would be over if Hamas surrenders, returns the hostages

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

The perception of tension in the US-Israel relationship is making it harder for Israel to reach a hostage deal with Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says in a podcast episode released last night.

“That perception certainly doesn’t help the hostage situation, certainly doesn’t help stabilize the Middle East,” he tells Dan Senor on the Call Me Back podcast. “It gives succor to Iran and its henchmen. But it means that we have to apply the pressure even more.”

US President Joe Biden said last week that he had stopped sending certain munitions to Israel that could be used for an operation in the heart of Rafah. Israeli troops are expanding their limited incursion into Gaza’s southern border area.

“What do you do when you’re faced with such international pressure?” Netanyahu asks rhetorically. “I can say that in Israel’s history when faced with this kind of pressure then leaders did what they had to do. ”

Repeating a position he has expressed several times in recent days, Netanyahu says he deeply appreciates the support Israel has received from Biden – “but if we have to stand alone, we will do so because I’m the prime minister of Israel, the one and only Jewish state, and we will not go down.”

Netanyahu says that the fate of the free world depends on the direction America takes — whether anti-Israel protesters influence US policy, or whether Washington sticks with Israel.

“Where does America go?” he asks. “Does it succumb to this madness, to this mobocracy in those campuses, to this flagrant antisemitism that is sweeping the globe?”

“The fate of the world depends on where America goes,” Netanyahu stresses. “I think for the sake of humanity, for the sake of our common future, our common values, our civilization, it is very important that America retains its dominant position as the supreme global power. ”

Netanyahu says that America’s global position is being tested as part of the onslaught against Israel.

“These crowds, mobs in American universities. They burn the Israeli flag and they burn the American flag. They chant: ‘Death to Israel, death to America.’ So we’re fighting a common battle, a battle between civilization and barbarism.”

Netanyahu indicates that Israel is open to Hamas leaders going into exile after they surrender. “This war could be over tomorrow. If Hamas lays down its arms, surrenders, returns the hostages, the war is over.” Netanyahu says. “It’s up to them.”

He adds: “The idea of exile is there. We can always discuss it. But I think the most important thing is surrender.”

Netanyahu insists that it is “patent nonsense” that he has not prioritized hostage negotiations. “The charge is malicious. It’s false.”

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