Netanyahu claims he never bought into ‘conception’ Hamas didn’t want to attack Israel

After years of placating terror group with Qatari money, work permits and lackluster responses to their attacks, PM insists he always knew the only solution was to destroy it

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference at the Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv. November 22, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference at the Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv. November 22, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed on Monday that he never believed Hamas was more interested in growing rich while ruling Gaza than it was in attacking Israel, despite having made statements to the contrary in the past.

During a 30-minute interview with British author Douglas Murray, Netanyahu was asked about the “conception” — as many have termed officials’ deeply mistaken paradigm in the years leading up to the October 7 assault — that Hamas “wanted to be corrupt and get rich” more than it wanted to carry out a massive assault on Israel.

Responding to Murray’s question, Netanyahu said, “It may be true of some people” that they believed that Hamas had given up on trying to launch a full-scale war against Israel in favor of growing comfortable in Gaza, but that he personally had never fallen for the idea.

“I believe that we can’t cut deals with Hamas,” Netanyahu — who oversaw the 2011 deal that saw Hamas release Gilad Shalit from captivity in exchange for more than 1,000 terrorists — told Murray. “I called them ISIS, many years ago. When they took over I said, This is ‘Hamastan,’ [that] these people will work to attack us.”

“This was dismissed at the time that we left Gaza,” Netanyahu added, referring to Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, when the military and 21 Jewish settlements evacuated the coastal enclave under the leadership of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon.

“I resigned from the government before that happened. I said this is what will happen: We’ll have a terrorist state of this Muslim Brotherhood branch that will seek to destroy Israel,” he said.

In August 2005, less than a month before the disengagement from Gaza, Netanyahu, who was then serving as finance minister and had initially voted in favor of the plan, resigned from Sharon’s government, saying he was “not prepared to be a partner to a move which ignores reality and proceeds blindly toward turning the Gaza Strip into a base for Islamic terrorism which will threaten the state.”

In 2009, four years after the disengagement, Netanyahu returned to government, this time as prime minister and with Hamas having wrested control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority.

“So the question was what do you do about it?” he said to Murray of the Hamas leadership in Gaza. “My conclusion was that we have to continuously cut these weeds, but we didn’t get the agreement to actually yank out these weeds because… this would require sacrificing hundreds of our soldiers.”

“We couldn’t get the domestic consensus to make such a definitive solution to the problem of Hamas. That is, no one would agree across the Israeli public to go in and basically destroy Hamas,” he added.

Despite his assertion that he has always believed destroying Hamas was the only solution to removing the threat the terror group poses to Israel, Netanyahu’s policies regarding Hamas and Gaza in the years since 2009 have often contradicted the claim.

In November 2018, then serving his fourth consecutive term as prime minister, Netanyahu approved a plan to allow Qatar to fund Gaza’s civil servant salaries with a cash transfer of $90 million, which entered Gaza in suitcases in several installments over six months.

Palestinians receive their financial aid as part of an aid allocated by Qatar, at a post office in Gaza City on June 20, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

At the time, he said that the decision was made to prevent a humanitarian crisis from erupting in the Palestinian enclave, and defended it as “the right step.”

In March 2019, however, he reportedly acknowledged that the transfer of funds was not just meant to alleviate a burgeoning humanitarian crisis, but to keep Hamas in power, with the goal of weakening the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

“Whoever opposes a Palestinian state must support the delivery of funds to Gaza because maintaining separation between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza will prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said, according to leaks from a Likud faction meeting.

He acknowledged then that the money was also a way to ensure Hamas maintained the peace along the Gaza border, saying, “For every step, without exception, there is a price. When you take steps as a leader, there is always a price; if you cannot bear the cost, you cannot lead.”

That same year, Netanyahu’s government coordinated a deal with Hamas to double the number of permits granted to Palestinian workers from Gaza, increasing the quota of trader permits from 3,000 to 5,000 and lowering the minimum age for entering Israel from 30 to 25.

Palestinian men gather to apply for work permits in Israel, at Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 6, 2021. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

By increasing the trade permits, Netanyahu hoped to meet Hamas’s demands for economic relief while maintaining a tenuous calm along the border after a brief round of fighting between Israel and the terror group.

After the 2019 decision to increase trade permits, the number of work permits issued to Palestinians in Gaza increased dramatically, and by the eve of Hamas’s deadly onslaught on October 7, nearly 20,000 Gaza residents had permits to work in Israel.

At the same time as he approved moves to strengthen the Hamas government in Gaza in order to keep the peace, Netanyahu avoided taking extreme measures against the terror group, even when it launched rocket barrages and incendiary balloons at Israel, sometimes for days on end.

Despite telling Murray that there would have been no public support for stronger measures against Hamas, Netanyahu has in the past come under strong criticism for opting not to pursue a military response to attacks by the terror group.

In 2019, as tensions flared on the Gaza border, Netanyahu’s opponents voiced discontent with the government’s lackluster response to the incendiary kites and balloons launched from Gaza that burned fields and destroyed the livelihoods of Israelis living close to the border.

Palestinians gather near the border with Israel in Malaka, east of Gaza City on March 30, 2019, as they mark the first anniversary of the ‘March of Return’ border protests. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

At the time, then-Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz accused Netanyahu of  “filling up Hamas’s fire balloons with helium,” and said that the decision to settle for a truce rather than a strong response to the arson attacks was proof that “Hamas is dictating things” to the prime minister.

Netanyahu had previously defended his policy of settling for a truce rather than a response, saying that it was in Israel’s interest to do everything possible to avoid a major military operation in the Strip.

Illustrative: An IDF soldier stands in front of a fire near Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel that was sparked by a balloon-borne incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, August 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Throughout the years of Netanyahu’s leadership, the prime minister and his government officials repeatedly reassured the Israeli public at various points of Hamas’s inability to strike hard at Israel, or its lack of desire to do so.

In 2021, upon the conclusion of the 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls, Netanyahu declared that Israel’s bombardment of the Strip had “set Hamas back by many years” and deterred the group, and promised that Israel had dealt the terror group “unexpected blows.”

As recently as September 2023, just weeks before thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst through the Gaza border and slaughtered 1,200 people across southern Israel, abducting over 250 more, the government approved a decision to reopen the Erez Crossing to Palestinian workers from Gaza despite daily riots along the border fence.

Palestinian youths launch incendiary balloons toward Israel near the border east of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, on September 26, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

At the time, experts concluded that the protests had more to do with Hamas’s efforts to manage the territory and halt its spiraling economic crisis than a desire to draw Israel into a new round of conflict.

While Netanyahu himself did not endorse this line of thinking, the government was said to be considering increasing the number of work permits for Gazans, expanding the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast and allowing more imports and exports into the Strip, as a way of ensuring that Hamas would keep the peace.

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