newsIsrael at War

Netanyahu urges pressure on Qatar for hostage release

Hamas is dependent on the emirate financially, the prime minister said.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken enters the room for a meeting with members of the Israeli War Cabinet in Tel Aviv, Nov. 3, 2023. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken enters the room for a meeting with members of the Israeli War Cabinet in Tel Aviv, Nov. 3, 2023. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday urged the international community to increase pressure on Qatar to bring about the release of the remaining hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza.

The remarks come as weeks-long on-again off-again American-backed talks through Qatari and Egyptian intermediaries to reach an agreement for the release of the remaining 134 hostages being held in Gaza have stalled over Hamas demands. About 100 of the hostages are believed to be alive.

“Qatar can press Hamas as no one else can. They host Hamas leaders. Hamas is dependent on them financially,” Netanyahu said in an address to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations meeting in Jerusalem.

Qatar, which is home to a major American military base, hosts Hamas leaders living in the Gulf state in luxurious exile and, with past Israeli accord, has long funded Hamas in Gaza.

“The release of hostages can be achieved through strong military action and tough negotiations, very tough negotiations,” the prime minister said. “That tough position has to involve the exertion of pressure. And the exertion of pressure is not merely on Hamas itself, but on those who can exert pressure on Hamas, beginning with Qatar.”

Qatar quickly criticized Netanyahu for his remarks.

“The Israeli Prime Minister’s recent statements in which he calls on Qatar to pressure Hamas into releasing the [Israeli] hostages are nothing but a new attempt by him to delay and prolong the war for reasons that have become clear to everyone,” Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari posted in a statement on social media platform X.

Earlier, American Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew conceded that the U.S. has a “complicated” relationship with Qatar, but said that the Gulf emirate was a key mediator in the hostage talks, which brought about the release of about 100 hostages in November.

He said that the closure of the American military base in Qatar would not be an effective method of pressure, nor could it be removed overnight. “Israel wouldn’t be any safer,” the ambassador said.

U.S. will not unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state

The Biden administration does not intend to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, even though it continues to support a vision for a demilitarized state as part of a post-war regional agreement, the American ambassador said on Sunday.

The remarks come amid reports that the U.S. State Department is discussing possible recognition of a Palestinian state in the wake of the war, and follow recent comments from Western leaders that they might consider such a step despite overwhelming Israeli opposition, a view only heightened by the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre.

“We have never said that there should be a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state,” Lew said following an address at the Conference of Presidents annual Jerusalem mission.

“At the same time, if the normalization conversation with Saudi Arabia is to be achieved, there must be an over-the-horizon process that includes a vision for a demilitarized Palestinian state,” the ambassador said earlier in prepared remarks.

“Israel will have to make that choice,” he added.

Public opinion polls have found that more than three-quarters of Israelis oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.

Hours earlier, the Israeli Cabinet unanimously rejected the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

U.S. criticism written off to ‘stress and volatility’

The American ambassador said recent criticism by the Biden administration about Israel’s conduct of the war, now in its fifth month, including remarks by President Joe Biden that Jerusalem’s response was “over the top,” stemmed from the fact that “the reality of war was causing a huge amount of pain everywhere.

“In a moment of stress and a volatile time, [there is] a lot of language, but you’ve got to look at the actions the president is doing,” Lew said in response to a question from the audience about the message such admonitions were sending out in undercutting an ally.

“The war has to be done in a way that is consistent with our shared values,” he said. “We have to remember that a child is a child.”

Differences with U.S. administration ‘overcome’

In a subsequent address to the American Jewish leaders, Netanyahu stressed that no other army in the world has made such efforts to avoid civilian casualties.

“The Israeli army is going to lengths that no other army has gone through in protecting civilians,” he said, noting that the 2:1 ratio of civilian to combatants killed in Gaza, where Hamas has notoriously embedded itself among the civilian population, was lower than in the U.S. fight in Mosul. “It doesn’t prevent the vilification of Israel,” he added.

Netanyahu lauded the U.S. for its support for Israel, and said that differences of opinion with the administration had been overcome.

“We cannot agree to an international diktat that would force a Palestinian state on Israel after the horrors of October 7,” he said, noting the widespread Israeli opposition to such a move.

Netanyahu also urged the umbrella organization of American Jewry to adopt the same resolution the Cabinet passed against a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

“I’ve been seeing you here year after year, but this year it’s different. Each year you come here to express your solidarity with the State of Israel, solidarity of the Diaspora with the Jewish state, but this year, that solidarity is particularly important, because it’s an expression of unity between the Jewish people and the Jewish state, between so many of our friends around the world and the great trial that we are faced with today,” the prime minister said.

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