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Netanyahu Pushes Back on Schumer’s ‘Inappropriate’ Criticisms

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shot back Sunday at comments by US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who last week called for elections in Israel to remove the current government.

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“What he said is totally inappropriate,” Netanyahu said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” in his first public comments to the Senate floor speech by Schumer, the highest-ranking elected Jewish American in history. “It’s inappropriate for a — to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership there.”

“We’re not a banana republic.”

“The majority of Israelis support our government” and oppose “ramming a Palestinian state down our throat,” Netanyahu said on CNN. “The majority of Israelis support the policies that we’re leading.”

Netanyahu vowed in a cabinet meeting on Sunday to press on with Israel’s campaign against Hamas by sending troops into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, despite mounting global pressure for a cease-fire.

“If we stop the war now, before all of its goals are achieved, this means that Israel will have lost the war, and this we will not allow,” he said.

Israel’s leader made an indirect reference in those remarks to Schumer and the call for elections, saying that holding a new ballot would “paralyze the country for at least six months.”

Israel’s war cabinet on Friday approved an assault on Rafah after the civilians there have been moved out. Netanyahu’s office said the Israel Defense Forces are taking steps to relocate the estimated 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering in the city toward central Gaza.

“We will operate in Rafah. This will take several weeks, and it will happen,” Netanyahu said on Sunday.

Public Rebuke

In Thursday’s 44-minute speech, Schumer, a New York Democrat and a decades-long supporter of Israel in Congress, said Netanyahu had become an “obstacle” to peace.

It was an extraordinary public rebuke as concerns grow worldwide about the civilian toll of Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza, now into its sixth month.

President Joe Biden praised the remarks, saying that Schumer had made a “good speech” while stopping short of endorsing the call for Israeli elections and Netanyahu’s ouster. On Sunday, John Kirby, spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said on ABC’s “This Week” that the US has to respect the sovereignty of a “democratic country.”

Read more: US Sanctions Israel West Bank Settlers as Gaza Tensions Grow

Israel Readies Rafah Assault While Reviving Cease-Fire Talks

Israel’s war against Hamas, designated as a terrorist group by the US and the European Union, started after Hamas fighters invaded southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 men, women and children and taking some 250 hostage. More than 130 of the hostages are still being held in Gaza.

Netanyahu said going into Rafah is the only way to eliminate Hamas’ remaining brigades and create the military pressure necessary to free all of the hostages. He called on the global community to apply pressure instead on Hamas and on its sponsor, Iran.

“To our friends in the international community I say: Is your memory so short? So quickly did you forget October 7, the most terrible massacre committed against Jews since the Holocaust?” Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting. “Did you lose your moral conscience so quickly?”

Read more: Biden-Netanyahu Spat Spills Into View as Gaza Deaths Rise

Israel will send a delegation to Qatar to resume negotiations this week on a deal for the return of hostages, according to a statement on Friday, after a cease-fire proposal submitted earlier by Hamas was said to include unreasonable demands.

The Hamas-run health ministry says that more than 31,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7. Its estimates don’t differentiate between combatants and civilians.

With the Rafah offensive looming and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza from insufficient provision of food and medical aid, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Saturday warned Israel against using hunger as a “weapon of war.”

Israel says it is doing all it can to facilitate the flow of food and medical supplies into Gaza and is putting no limits on the amount of aid. Bottlenecks are due to lack of sufficient capacity by the UN organizations to distribute the aid inside Gaza, Israel has said.

The large number of civilian casualties that would result from an assault on Rafah would make regional peace “very difficult,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Sunday after talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah.

Scholz met with Netanyahu on Sunday as well in a bid to push for “a long-lasting cease-fire.”

--With assistance from Sonja Wind and Victoria Cavaliere.

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