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Netanyahu Refuses to Commit to Elections, Blasts Schumer’s Criticism as ‘Inappropriate’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not take kindly to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) speech on the Senate floor last week where he called for Israel to hold elections once the current assault on Gaza winds down.

“What he said is totally inappropriate. It’s inappropriate to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership there,” the Israeli prime minister said in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union that aired Sunday.

Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish official in the U.S. and a longtime ally to Israel, called Netanyahu an “obstacle to peace.” He said that “a new election is the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel at a time when so many Israelis have lost their confidence in the vision and direction of their government.”

“I think what he said is totally inappropriate,” Netanyahu told host Dana Bash of Schumer’s comments. “It’s inappropriate to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership there. That’s something that Israel, the Israeli public does on its own, and we’re not a banana republic.”

Netanyahu went on to claim that the majority of Israelis and overwhelming majority of the Knesset “oppose the idea of ramming down a Palestinian state down our throats.”

Bash referenced a report from the Director of National Intelligence that said, “Distrust of Netanyahu’s ability to rule has deepened and broadened across the public.” Bash also pointed out that polls conducted in Israel show its citizens support early elections.

“Channel 12 says 64 percent of Israelis support early elections,” she said. But Netanyahu still refused to commit.

“I think that’s something for the Israeli public to decide. I think it’s ridiculous to talk about it,” Netanyahu said, comparing the idea of discussing elections now to calling for an election in America after 9/11.

Bash questioned Netanyahu about Israel’s throttle on humanitarian aid and tried to get the prime minister to commit to a significant increase in the amount of aid allowed into Gaza. “Organizations call what they are seeing near-famine in Gaza,” she said. “So why won’t you allow more food trucks to drive through the border crossings in to Gaza to feed starving civilians while you continue to take out the terrorists in Hamas?”

“Well, our policy is to do exactly that,” Netanyahu said. “Our policy is to not have famine, but to have the entry of humanitarian support as needed and as much as is needed.”

But, as Bash noted, the humanitarian aid coming in currently amounts to “a trickle.” World Food Program leader Cindy McCain, a longtime Israel supporter and widow of Sen. John McCain, said a significant increase of aid is needed now to prevent a famine.

In recent weeks, Palestinians have accused Israeli troops of opening fire on people seeking food in various locations in Gaza. In late February, the Israeli military fired into a crowd lining up to collect food from an aid envoy. This past Thursday, at least 20 people died and another 155 were wounded while waiting for food, Gaza’s health ministry said, attributing the deaths to Israeli shelling. An Israel Defense Forces preliminary review said it was not Israeli forces but Palestinians who opened fire.

“We were sitting there, and there was nothing,” man identifying himself as Ibrahim Al-Najar told CNN. “Suddenly, they bombarded us with shells. There are a lot of martyrs and injuries. We were there to bring food for our children.”

“At least 15 children have already starved to death — and this is only the data from one hospital,” said Hiba Tibi, West Bank and Gaza country director for poverty charity Care, according to an article published on Mar. 12 in The BMJ.

In the Sunday interview, Netanyahu repeated his desire to invade Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where more than a million Palestinians have sought refuge from fighting in the north. Biden called Rafah a “red line” and urged Israel not to invade, but Netanyahu has held firm. “We’ll go there. We’re not going to leave,” he said last week.

To Bash, Netanyahu claimed that Israelis “overwhelmingly support the position that we have to go in [to Rafah],” although he did not provide evidence of this.

The Biden administration has called for an immediate temporary ceasefire in Gaza. Representatives from the Israeli government are traveling to Qatar to attempt to negotiate a deal for Hamas to free hostages in exchange for a six-week pause in fighting. In prior negotiations, Hamas has asked for Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons — many who are held without charges — to be released as well.

At the end of last month, the Palestinian death toll since Oct. 7 climbed to above 30,000, according to Gaza’s ministry of health. Two-thirds of those deaths have been women and children. The number of dead is likely an undercount, as many people are missing and an unknown number of bodies remain under rubble from Israeli airstrikes.

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