Netanyahu: We Will Stand Firm in the Face of International Pressure

Benjamin Netanyahu press conference (Screenshot / YouTube)
Screenshot / YouTube

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a rare midweek press conference on Thursday to emphasize that Israel would continue to fight in Gaza, and defend its interests in spite of international pressure to end the war.

Netanyahu spoke in the wake of a stampede in northern Gaza in which dozens of Palestinians were killed as they mobbed humanitarian aid trucks before dawn Wednesday morning. During the chaos, which reportedly occurred in several waves, Israeli soldiers were charged by civilians and opened fire when the crowd ignored warning shots. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said its soldiers were responsible for no more than ten of the deaths in the incident.

The incident illustrated the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which persists because Hamas, the terror organization that launched the war October 7, has refused to accept a temporary ceasefire unless Israel ends the war and leaves.

Netanyahu also condemned a terror attack earlier Thursday in the settlement of Eli, in the Shomron (the northern West Bank), in which two Israelis were murdered at a gas station by a terrorist who turned out to be a member of the Palestinian Authority security services.

Netanyahu praised the unity of the Israeli people in the face of threats. “When we stand together, we are very strong,” he said. He said that the nation’s unity had to be maintained “to achieve final victory.”

Netanyahu recounted the history of Israeli prime ministers before him, each of whom, he said, had faced international pressure every time they were called upon to defend Israel from attack. He noted, however, that ordinary people around the world backed Israel, even if politicians and activists did not. He cited a recent Harvard-Harris poll in the U.S. that showed Americans supported Israel overwhelmingly, and did not support Hamas (rather, they backed its removal).

He also addressed the thorny issue of the military draft. Earlier in the week, Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant had said the country would need to draft ultra-Orthodox men who currently enjoy exemption from military service if they are engaged in religious study. Netanyahu said that it was becoming clear that all had to serve in some capacity: “Today, even the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] public recognizes it.” He acknowledged, however, that compromise would be needed.

“It is impossible to achieve complete agreement [on the draft],” he said. “You know where they have complete agreement? North Korea.” He urged flexibility — and unity in the face of the challenges Israel faces, inside and out.

Netanyahu rejected the idea of calling early elections for the Knesset (the country voted in municipal elections earlier this week). He said that elections in the middle of the war would be divisive. (The current Knesset expires in 2026.)

Asked about negotiations to free the 134 Israeli hostages still held by Hamas, Netanyahu said that Hamas was not yet in the “region of an agreement,” though he reiterated that Israel was doing everything it could to secure their return.

In response to a question about the tens of thousands of Israeli civilians who remained evacuated from their homes on the northern border which is being shelled daily from Lebanon by Hezbollah, Netanyahu noted that residents of the southern cities near Gaza had begun returning to their homes, and said that he hoped a solution would soon be found in the north.

Israel has said that if diplomatic efforts fail to budge Hezbollah, it is prepared to go to war in Lebanon.

Update: The Prime Minister’s Office released a translation of Netanyahu’s full statement.

Dear citizens of Israel,

At the start of my remarks, I would like to send condolences to the families of those who were murdered in the abhorrent terrorist attack near Eli, may G-d avenge them. Since the start of the war, we have eliminated almost 400 terrorists in Judea and Samaria. The battle is still underway; it has exacted from us a heavy cost.

Since October 7, we have been conducting two campaigns: A military campaign and a diplomatic campaign. The military campaign is designed to destroy Hamas, return all of our hostages and ensure that Gaza never again constitutes a threat to Israel. The diplomatic campaign is designed to provide the military campaign with the time and resources to achieve these goals – until total victory is achieved.

For five months, my colleagues and I have been working on a daily basis with world leaders and in the global media to allow freedom of action for the IDF and the security forces. This freedom of action is unprecedented in the history of the state.

As Prime Minister of Israel, I am committed to safeguarding our existential interests in spite of the growing and increasing pressure on us. This is how my predecessors acted at decisive junctures: In the face of international opposition, David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence. Levi Eshkol embarked on the Six Day War and Menachem Begin ordered the attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor. This is what I have also done as Prime Minister for many years in the face of great pressures: In the continuing fight against the Iranian nuclear program, in halting the effort to compel us to accept a Palestinian terrorist state, and in doubling the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria in the face of pressure to strangle us completely.

And today, together with my colleagues, I am rejecting the international pressure to end the war before we achieve all of its goals. As I said, even though this pressure is growing and increasing, our efforts are bearing fruit in the most important diplomatic arena which is, of course, the US. This week a Harvard CAPS-Harris poll was published; it determined that 82% of the American public supports Israel. That is to say that more than four out five US citizens supports us and not Hamas. This broad support gives us redoubled energy to continue the campaign until total victory.

We are taking strong action against our enemies on all fronts: In the north, we are striking Hezbollah, eliminating its and Iran’s senior commanders in our region and preventing them from carrying out their murderous designs.

In the south, we are continuing to eliminate Hamas’s battalions in Khan Yunis and they are also preparing for the continuation. And let it be clear to you – there will be a continuation. Victory over Hamas requires the elimination of all remaining Hamas battalions both in the center of the Strip and in Rafah. We will do so while evacuating the civilian population from the combat zones. We will do so with concern for the humanitarian needs and we will do so while respecting international law – because that is how we operate.

At the same time, we are making a relentless effort to return all of our hostages. Citizens of Israel, this is a sacred goal; we are working on it around the clock. I demand to know in advance the names of all the hostages who will be included in the outline. I have yet to receive an answer on the two questions and it is too early to say, in spite of our willingness, if we will achieve an outline for an additional release in the coming days. We are making great efforts to succeed but one thing is clear to you – we will not capitulate in the face of Hamas’s delusional demands. We will not do this because if we capitulate, we will simply not be here. But as of today, thanks to the combination of military pressure and tough negotiations, we have succeeded in returning alive 112 of our hostages. We are determined to return them all. With or without an outline, we will fight until total victory.

Citizens of Israel, we are achieving the goals of the war thanks to the heroism of our fighters and the unity among us. Recently, this unity was expressed in an unprecedented Knesset vote – 99 MKs acceded to my initiative to vote against international ¬diktat¬ to force on us the establishment of a Palestinian state. The last time that there were 99 MKs together was 30 years ago, on the peace agreement with Jordan. When we stand together, we are very strong. Since the start of the war, we have shown amazing unity on the battlefield and in Israeli society, unity which has astounded our enemies and friends alike.

Everyone who comes here tells me, be it in a taxi or on the street, or in our meetings with various sectors, they say: ‘We encounter an astounding unity here.’ They see our soldiers and say: ‘We encounter here a marvelous unity.’ This is what foreign visitors are saying.

We must continue with this unity in order to achieve total victory. In this spirit, I am convinced that we have the power to overcome even the issue of sharing the burden and enlistment. First, we must lighten the burden of reserve duty and increase the compensation to conscripts and reservists. I do not agree with the intention to double reserve duty across the board; to increase it three- or four-fold. The IDF can continue issuing emergency call-up orders as required, according to need.

Second, I am preparing a law to dramatically compensate those leaving the military by giving great discounts on land in the Galilee, the Negev and national preference areas. I will give you an example: A discharged soldier who does not own an apartment, will receive a 90% discount on the land, and a discharged combat soldier without an apartment will receive a 95% discount, almost free. Our heroic fighters have earned this. They defended our home and they will now receive land on which to build homes.

Third, regarding enlistment. I deeply appreciate the Torah study of our ultra-orthodox brothers. I also recognize and appreciate their joining the civilian emergency and rescue organizations that are doing sacred work. However, in addition to this, I must say: One cannot ignore the sense among the public over the gap in sharing the security burden. I will tell you something else, the ultra-orthodox public also recognizes this need. It is prepared to change the situation. Therefore, we will set goals for recruiting ultra-orthodox men into the IDF and civilian service. We will also determine the ways to ensure the implementation of these goals. It is possible to achieve this arrangement without dividing the nation and without inciting against anyone.

I am certain that it is possible to secure a Knesset majority for this arrangement but one thing is clear to me: It is impossible to achieve absolute agreement. Do you know where there is absolute agreement? In North Korea. In a democracy, there is the agreement of the majority. Whoever demands absolute agreement will not achieve any agreement. It is enough that someone in the coalition is interested in going to elections, then we will be dragged into elections. It is enough that if there is an element with extremist demands on the enlistment issue – one way or the other – then we will also be dragged into elections.

And what is the significance of general elections now? General elections mean stopping the war, that is to say, the defeat of Israel. General elections mean paralyzing the country for six months, perhaps eight. Six months in which the country, the Government and the Knesset will be paralyzed and torn apart. In such a situation, the Government’s hands will be tied. It will be unable to make decisions – not on the hostages, not on Rafah, not on Hezbollah, not on anything.

And not only the will the Government be paralyzed and torn apart – our soldiers will be torn apart. These are not municipal elections, in which a soldier from Hebron is in an APC together with a soldier from Ramat Hasharon. In these elections, there was no argument among them, each one looked to his own affairs. But in general elections, not only will there be arguments, there will be emotions, there will be camps, there will be defiance. This will be deadly fire inside our national APC. This must not happen to us during a war, while we are so close to victory.

Citizens of Israel, I reiterate to you that general elections during the war would mean defeat for Israel. This is the exact dream of Sinwar, Nasrallah and Iran. They are just waiting for it. I know what I am talking about. I will tell you something else: All the members of the Cabinet know what I am talking about.

Therefore, citizens of Israel, this is the time for unity. This is the time for agreements among us. Together with you, I say this evening to the leaders of the world, to both our friends and our opponents, do not mistake us. We are determined to fight to the end, until total victory.

We will always remember that all of this is achieved thanks to our soldiers. All of this is achieved thanks to the heroes of the people. I salute them for being daring, for storming forward amidst self-sacrifice, and I embrace the families of the fallen, in their unbearable pain.

At the start of the week, my wife Sara and I went to Shavei Shomron and visited the family of St.-Sgt. Neria Baleta, from the Givati Brigade Reconnaissance Unit, who fell heroically in battle in the Gaza Strip. Neria is the son of Rabbi Rahamim and Bat-Sheva, who made aliyah to Samaria from Ethiopia. Neria’s grandfather was murdered in Sudan en route to Zion, and his grandson was a brave fighter who fell for Zion. We wept together with the rabbi, the father Rahamim, and the mother Bat-Sheva, as they spoke with emotion about their heroic son, who loved his people and his country.

For Neria, for all of the fallen, for the security of our future, we will continue to fight until total victory.

Together we will fight and with G-d’s help, together we will win.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent book, “The Zionist Conspiracy (and how to join it),” now available on Audible. He is also the author of the e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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