Lapid: PM 'conducting evil political wartime campaign'

Netanyahu draws outcry for quote equating Oct. 7 toll to Oslo Accords deaths

After criticism by opposition and MK in his party, PM says notion of PA ruling Gaza after war is as dangerous as was bringing PLO officials from Tunisia under 1990s accords

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, leads a cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, leads a cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was criticized Tuesday after he was widely quoted a day earlier as telling lawmakers that the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians in the 1990s had caused as many deaths as Hamas’s October 7 massacres, “though over a longer period.”

The two-part deal signed in 1993-1995, which created the Palestinian Authority and gave it varying levels of autonomy in parts of the West Bank as a first stage on the way to a Palestinian state, was derailed by a wave of deadly Palestinian terror attacks over the following years.

Opposition to the accords swelled among right wingers, culminating in the assassination of dovish prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who championed and signed the Accords, and Netanyahu’s rise to power in 1996. Netanyahu has criticized the deal countless times, but has never voided it during his 16 years in power.

Multiple Hebrew media outlets reported Monday evening that during a closed-door meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Netanyahu said “the mother of all sins was Oslo — not the deal itself, but the fact that they took the most anti-Zionist element and brought it here from Tunisia to the heart of the land [of Israel].”

The Oslo Accords entailed bringing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and other Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) officials from exile in Tunisia to the West Bank.

The Ynet news site said Labor leader Merav Michaeli interrupted to protest Netanyahu’s comparison, but was shut down by committee chairman Yuli Edelstein.

Some commentators viewed Netanyahu’s statement as an attempt to lessen criticism of his responsibility for the events of October 7. Other reports said Netanyahu’s comments had come in response to Michaeli arguing that only a peace deal and a vision of a two-state solution could resolve the current situation.

(L-R) Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, US President Bill Clinton, and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, at the Oslo Accords signing ceremony on September 13, 1993. (Wikipedia)

Netanyahu has been widely seen as trying to shift blame away from himself for the October 7 onslaught, when Hamas caught Israel by surprise and sent some 3,000 terrorists across the border, brutally killing more than 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking over 240 hostage.

Two US officials told The Times of Israel over the weekend that US President Joe Biden’s administration is increasingly convinced that Netanyahu has entered “campaign mode,” as the premier has escalated his rhetoric against the Palestinian Authority.

The prime minister has been vehemently and publicly opposing the US-backed idea of handing the PA a role in governing the Gaza Strip if and when its current rulers, the Hamas terror group, are vanquished in the ongoing war — a stated Israeli goal.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid blasted the premier on Tuesday over the reported remarks.

“The State of Israel is at war. We are all going from one funeral to the next, from shiva to shiva,” said Lapid in a statement, referring to the seven-day traditional Jewish mourning period for a deceased family member. “The soldiers are fighting heroically. The heart breaks anew every morning before the pictures of those killed.”

“It is impossible to understand the level of disconnect and cynicism of the prime minister, who is conducting an evil political campaign during wartime whose entire purpose is to absolve himself of responsibility, to accuse others, and to create hatred. The nation deserves a different leadership,” Lapid said.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Meirav Cohen, of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, tweeted that Netanyahu’s quote meant, in essence, that he was “admitting that under his rule, and on a single day, the same number of people were killed as in the 5-7 years following Oslo.”

“Is this supposed to prove something good about him? What exactly is the argument? This is delusional,” Cohen said.

Michaeli, the Labor party leader — who has said she will step down in a few months and won’t seek reelection in the party — said that “for 30 years, Netanyahu has been blaming Oslo, more than 16 of which he has been prime minister. He didn’t nullify Oslo, he continued Oslo and used it to incite and stay in power.”

“He has never brought a different solution, and what he did bring failed spectacularly and horribly,” she said. “The path of Oslo is what the State of Israel needs, a diplomatic agreement to end the conflict. Until we get there, we will need to go nowhere after Netanyahu.”

Criticism also came from the ranks of Netanyahu’s own Likud party, with MK Danny Danon, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, telling the Kan public broadcaster that such comparisons were wrong.

“There is no place to compare, both because we are in the middle of a war, and because the events of that dark Saturday happened over the span of several hours, a number of killed and wounded that Israel has never seen since its founding,” he said.

Following the outcry, Netanyahu issued a video statement seeking to “clarify” his stance, and which was also widely interpreted as a response to Biden, who said at a Hanukkah reception at the White House on Monday night that he does not always agree with the Israeli premier.

US President Joe Biden (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“I deeply appreciate the American support for destroying Hamas and bringing back our hostages,” Netanyahu said in his Hebrew-language statement. “After intensive dialogue with President Biden and his people, we received full support for the ground operation and for curbing international pressure to end the war.”

“Yes, there is a disagreement when it comes to ‘the day after Hamas,’ and I hope we will come to an agreement here too,” Netanyahu added. “I want to clarify my position: I will not allow Israel to repeat the mistake of Oslo.”

“After the enormous sacrifice of our citizens and fighters, we cannot let into Gaza those who teach terror, support terror, finance terror,” the prime minister added, drawing a parallel between bringing Arafat to the West Bank and the idea of having the PA at least partially run post-war Gaza.

“Gaza will not be Hamas-stan nor Fatah-stan,” he said, referring to the PA’s ruling Fatah party.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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