ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 145

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Tells reporter: I’ll keep fighting Hamas; you’ll keep fighting me

Netanyahu vows no Palestinian state, attacks Israeli media, denies blindsiding Gallant

In rebuke of the US, PM declares Israel must maintain security control over West Bank and Gaza; says Israel will know soon if medicines sent into Gaza have reached hostages

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference on January 18, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference on January 18, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

During a combative press conference Thursday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the prospect of Palestinian statehood after the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, and vowed to resist the United States on the matter.

He also denied blindsiding his defense minister over a deal to send medicines into Gaza for Israeli hostages, accused Israeli media of spreading pessimism about the progress of the war, and said Hamas and Iran were hoping to see his government fall and elections held mid-war.

On the issue of Palestinian sovereignty, Netanyahu was speaking after a report on Wednesday that 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.

“Whoever is talking about the ‘day after Netanyahu’,” he said, “is essentially talking about the establishment of a Palestinian state with the Palestinian Authority.”

Most Israeli citizens are opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, he said, and he would always resist it.

The decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he declared during the primetime appearance at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, are “not about the absence of a state, a Palestinian state, but rather about the existence of a state, a Jewish state.

“All territory we evacuate, we get terror, terrible terror against us,” he said, citing Gaza, southern Lebanon and parts of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Therefore, “in any future arrangement, or in the absence of an arrangement,” he said, Israel must maintain “security control” of all territory west of the Jordan River — meaning, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. “That is a vital condition.”

The war cabinet meets at the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

He acknowledged that this “contradicts the idea of sovereignty [for the Palestinians]. What can you do? I tell this truth to our American friends.”

Netanyahu reportedly rejected a proposal last week from Blinken that would have seen Saudi Arabia normalize relations with Israel in exchange for Jerusalem agreeing to provide the Palestinians with a pathway toward statehood.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu asserted that his stance would not prevent Israel from expanding the circle of peace to new Arab countries, “along with our American friends.”

Medicines for the hostages

Netanyahu also denied that he hid the details of an arrangement to send medicine to Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, pulling out what he claimed was a memo by Mossad chief David Barnea laying out the details of the deal, which was sent to Gallant’s office.

He also denied that he allowed the medicine to be delivered without a security check, insisting that the minute he heard of that possibility, he “took responsibility” and ordered that the shipments be checked, “whether or not Hamas accepts that.”

Five truckloads of medicine, including vital drugs long sought for hostages held for over 100 days, entered Gaza on Wednesday, after undergoing Israeli security checks, according to authorities.

The shipment included long-awaited medicine for Israeli hostages held by Hamas, many of whom rely on prescription drugs for chronic conditions, according to their families, as well as medical supplies, food and other humanitarian aid for Palestinians in the war-torn Gaza Strip, as part of a deal brokered by Qatar and France.

Netanyahu said that he bypassed the Red Cross, because it had not helped with previous Israeli efforts to get medicines to the hostages, and that Qatar promised that the medicine would reach “every last hostage that needs it, and I expect them to meet their commitment.”

Admitting that the Qatari commitment to deliver medicine to hostages was the only way Israel has to verify their delivery, Netanyahu insisted that the government would know “very soon” if they didn’t meet their commitment.

A senior Hamas official said that for every box provided for the hostages, 1,000 boxes of medicine were being sent in for Palestinians.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid enter Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip after crossing the terminal border from Egypt, on January 17, 2024, during the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (AFP)

Answering a question about humanitarian aid, Netanyahu told reporters that Israel is only allowing in the absolute “minimum” quantity necessary to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

Attacks on Israeli media

The prime minister’s press conference featured several attacks on Israeli media, including the claim that the idea that Israel cannot win the war was being circulated “in the TV studios.”

“We are aiming for complete victory — not just to strike Hamas, not just to damage Hamas, not another round with Hamas,” Netanyahu promised. “A total victory over Hamas.”

“We will continue to fight at full strength until we achieve all our goals: the return of all our hostages — and I say again, only military pressure will lead to their release; the elimination of Hamas; and certainty that Gaza will never again represent a threat to Israel. There won’t be any party that educates for terror, funds terror, sends terrorists against us.”

Stopping the war prematurely “would harm Israel’s security for generations,” he said. “Ending the war before the goals are achieved would broadcast a message of weakness, encouraging our enemies to believe that they defeat us. And then the next slaughter would be only a matter of time.”

Asked about the progress of the war, Netanyahu said 16 or 17 of Hamas’s 24 battalions have been destroyed. “After that, there is the [phase] of clearing the territory [of remaining gunmen]. The first action is usually shorter, the second usually takes longer.”

Netanyahu said he “would be happy to find Gazans” to run civil affairs in the Strip, and to have regional states help with Gaza’s rehabilitation, but that this was unlikely to happen until Hamas is defeated, because potential alternatives will be afraid to “get a bullet in the head” from the terror group’s gunmen. “Until Hamas is eliminated, it will be very hard for you to start activating the ‘day after’ [arrangements],” he said.

Israeli troops operate in the Gaza Strip in a handout image published January 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Netanyahu, who has repeatedly avoided taking direct personal responsibility for the failure to prevent Hamas’s October 7 slaughter of 1,200 people in southern Israel, was asked if he feels he has anything to apologize for regarding the events surrounding October 7. In response, he said the way the question was framed was designed “to stain” him.

“Nobody is immune from mistakes, including me,” he said, but then again criticized the reporter. “I’ll continue to fight Hamas, and you’ll continue to fight me,” he said. “That’s the division of work,” he said, between him and the TV studios.

Regarding reports that he invited opposition party leaders Yair Lapid and Avigdor Liberman to join the coalition, he insisted, “I didn’t make any offers.” The current emergency war coalition was stable and should be maintained, he added.

“Going to elections would be irresponsible and would badly halt the war effort,” he also declared, since it would divide the people when unity was essential. “The ones who are hoping for this, and for all the other things we hear in the TV studios night after night, are Hamas and also its backer Iran. We won’t give this to them. We will bring complete victory.”

In response to another reporter, who asked why Israel is sufficing with attacks on Iran’s proxies rather than attacking Iran directly, Netanyahu responded, “Who says we aren’t attacking Iran? We are attacking Iran.”

Sam Sokol and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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