Gallant: Khan Younis operation will continue to expand

Netanyahu: No full Palestinian state, no ‘surrender’ in exchange for Gaza hostages

PM pushes back on White House vision of pathway to two-state solution and reports of a grand bargain that would end war, though he doesn’t rule out demilitarized Palestinian state

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in a video statement, January 19, 2024. (screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in a video statement, January 19, 2024. (screenshot)

As US President Joe Biden’s administration called for the war against Hamas to wind down alongside a pathway toward a two-state solution at the end of the fight, Israel’s leadership presented a vision at odds with that of the White House on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubled down in a video message on his determination not to allow a full-fledged, militarized Palestinian state to emerge.

“I will not compromise on full Israeli security control over all the territory west of the Jordan [River],” he said, echoing recent comments.

“As long as I am prime minister, I will continue to firmly stand by this,” he pledged, boasting that he had withstood international and domestic pressure over the years to move toward a two-state solution.

Netanyahu has made similar statements over the past week, though he appears to have been careful not to categorically reject all forms of Palestinian statehood.

Speaking after a report on Wednesday that said the Biden administration is looking past the premier to advance a two-state solution — and hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Israel cannot achieve “genuine security” without a pathway to a Palestinian state — Netanyahu said Israel must maintain “security control” of all territory west of the Jordan River in any future arrangement.

IDF soldiers aim their rifles during a raid at the Balata refugee camp, east of Nablus in the West Bank, on November 19, 2023, during the ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

After he spoke with Netanyahu on Friday, Biden expressed hope that a two-state solution could be achieved even with Netanyahu in office if it is demilitarized. A CNN report the next day indicated that Netanyahu told Biden that he was not ruling out a Palestinian state entirely. (A US official has confirmed the CNN report to The Times of Israel.)

The prime minister pushed back on that as well, tweeting on Saturday night that “I will not compromise on full Israeli security control over all the territory west of the Jordan River — and this runs contrary to a Palestinian state.”

But Netanyahu’s video statement Sunday could be seen as leaving the door open slightly for a demilitarized Palestinian state.

He also rejected the idea that a deal could emerge that leaves Hamas in power, insisting that Israel will achieve “total victory,” after which “there will be no entity in Gaza that finances terrorism, educates for terrorism or sends our terror.”

Netanyahu demanded that Gaza be demilitarized under Israel’s full security control.

Earlier Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the US, Egypt and Qatar are pushing Israel and Hamas to accept a comprehensive plan that would end the war, see the release of hostages held in Gaza, and ultimately lead to full normalization for Israel with its neighbors and talks for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In his video statement, Netanyahu said that Israel completely rejects Hamas’s demands for “surrender” in exchange for releasing the remaining 136 hostages in Gaza.

“So far, we have brought home 110 hostages, and we are committed to bringing them all back,” said Netanyahu. “I am working on this around the clock. But let it be clear: I reject outright the terms of surrender of the Hamas monsters.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, listens as US President Joe Biden addresses the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel from the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on October 7, 2023. (Jim WATSON / AFP)

The prime minister said that in exchange for releasing the hostages, “Hamas is demanding the end of the war, the exit of our forces from Gaza, releasing all the murderers and rapists of the Nukhba [forces] and leaving Hamas intact.”

Netanyahu added that “if we agree to this, our soldiers will have fallen in vain. If we agree to this, we cannot guarantee security for our citizens. We cannot bring the evacuees home safely, and the next October 7 will be just a matter of time. I am not able to agree to such a fatal blow to Israeli security, and therefore I cannot agree to that.”

The prime minister said he had made Israel’s stance on this issue clear to Biden when they spoke over the weekend.

Under pressure from US progressives, and worried about an escalation that could draw the country into the war, the Biden administration has been calling for the war to end “as quickly as possible” for over a month.

While Israel said earlier in January that it has begun a new, less intensive phase in its war against Hamas, that only seems to be the case in the northern half of the Strip.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Sunday that the IDF will further expand its ground offensive in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant flies over the Gaza Strip, January 21, 2024. (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)

“We are carrying out an intensive operation in the Khan Younis area, and it will continue to expand,” said Gallant following a flight over the Strip with the Israeli Air Force’s 100th Squadron.

“The plumes of smoke from the tanks, artillery and Air Force planes, will continue to cover the skies of the Gaza Strip, until we achieve our goals, chief among them, the defeat of Hamas and the return of hostages to their homes,” he added.

War erupted after Hamas-led terrorists invaded southern Israeli communities, massacring some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253 others. Israel then launched a massive military operation aimed at vanquishing Hamas and freeing the hostages.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, another was rescued alive and bodies of others were extricated. Four more hostages are believed to have been held in the Strip since 2014 or 2015.

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