newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Recognizing Palestinian state rewards Hamas, Fetterman says in Israel: ‘What’s wrong with you?’

"I didn't support withholding any of those large bombs because they have to fight an enemy that hides in tunnels," the Pennsylvania senator told JNS. "I trust Israel's judgment."

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) speaks to reporters at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on June 27, 2024. Photo by Alex Traiman.
Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) speaks to reporters at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on June 27, 2024. Photo by Alex Traiman.

A two-state solution is something for which Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) hopes in theory, “but certainly not at this—not right now,” he told reporters in an intimate gathering in Jerusalem on Thursday.

“I was appalled when our allies, whether it’s Ireland or Spain or others, were calling for recognizing that—that’s outrageous,” he said of some countries opting to recognize an independent Palestinian state. “Why would you give Hamas that kind of a reward when you have Israeli citizens still held hostage, and you’re in the middle of a war?”

“How is that, what’s wrong with you?” the pro-Israel senator said. “It’s crazy. I can’t explain it.”

Fetterman responded to four questions from Alex Traiman, JNS CEO and Jerusalem bureau chief, during the press conference on Thursday.

Asked what he thought of reports that the White House has been slow-tracking weapons shipments to the Jewish state, Fetterman said that he disagrees on the matter with U.S. President Joe Biden.

“I’ve been very clear there’s no conditions, and that hasn’t changed with me,” he told JNS. “Before Oct. 7, I was clear I always fully support Israel without any conditions, and after Oct. 7, it’s even more of a period to deliver whatever Israel needs.”

“I didn’t support withholding any of those large bombs because they have to fight an enemy that hides in tunnels,” he said of Israel Defense Forces efforts against the Hamas terror group. “I trust Israel’s judgment. They are not looking to maximize all civilian deaths or anything like that.”

Fetterman told JNS that he is always much more eager “to trust Israel than pretend that there’s anything that you could trust with Hamas or even some of the other nations in our region.”

JNS also asked the Pennsylvania senator if he thinks it is appropriate, especially during a war, for Democratic leaders to tell a U.S. ally, which has had five elections in the past five-plus years, when it should choose its leaders and to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“That’s your leader,” Fetterman said of Netanyahu. “I follow Israel through that, and if that nation elects so-and-so, I’m going to support that person—whether I happen to privately agree or disagree on so many of the kinds of issues.”

If Israel elects a new leader in its next election, “I’m going to support that individual,” the senator added. “That devotion is going to be with Israel through that, and that’s going to endure.”

Fetterman declined to criticize Netanyahu. “The harshest words and the other kinds of judgment should be directed at Hamas, not our ally throughout this,” he said. “I don’t think it’s helpful.”

“If you really do feel like you have to express that, well [it] should be in private,” Fetterman added.

Benjamin Netanyahu and John Fetterman
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on June 26, 2024. Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.

JNS asked Fetterman if he thinks Netanyahu is doing a good job.

The senator said that he doesn’t think that there are any “actual experts” in the Middle East.

“Otherwise, where’s the document? Where’s the think piece that will solve all of this?” he said. “It’s an incredible situation after an unprecedented kind of situation after Oct. 7. It was kind of a black swan kind of situation.”

The senator said that he believes that it is necessary to confront “that kind of evil like Hamas” and prevent it from enduring.

“There is a duty to help rebuild Gaza and to create a better quality of life for Palestinians,” he told JNS. “But it is naive to think that that is ever possible if Hamas is to keep their boot on their neck.”

JNS also asked Fetterman about the threat from Hezbollah. No one wants an escalation, but can Israel be expected to live with such a threat on its northern border, and are there non-military solutions, JNS asked.

“Iran is one of the world’s premier underwriters of terrorism on that, and there won’t be any true, true peace until Iran decides that their organizing principle can’t be that Israel has to be destroyed,” Fetterman said. “That is a risk and that’s a danger that everyone in Israel has always lived under.”

The Iranian regime makes those it funds illicitly agree with its mission to destroy the Jewish state, according to Fetterman.

“It’s a terrible thing to have to live with in Israel, but I do think that Israel is in a unique situation to have the support that it’d need from our nation. God forbid if that happens,” he said.

Fetterman Herzog
Israeli President Isaac Herzog meets with Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) in Israel on June 25, 2024. Credit: Ma’ayan Toaf/GPO.

‘A slur in some circles’

The senator also told JNS that the question was how Gaza can be rebuilt without “those resources turned into a geyser of resources for Hamas if Hamas is allowed to be functional at that point and to replenish their treasury to rebuild the tunnels or to buy weapons on that.”

“We have to be honest about that conversation, and I could never vote for a dime to rebuild Gaza if Hamas is the ones there that are getting, the checks are going to end up in their hands,” he added.

Fetterman arrived in Israel on Tuesday—his first-ever visit to the Jewish state and his second international trip since he won his Senate seat in 2022.

He visited Yad Vashem on Wednesday and saw the Book of Names, Fetterman told reporters.

“Now that is a profound document. It’s bigger than you fit in this room, and that is a physical manifestation of a genocide,” he said. “That’s the Holocaust, and it’s stunning to see that that’s what 6 million deaths look [like].”

The senator also told reporters that the kind of “big escalation” that many Israel critics and the Biden administration predicted in Rafah never came to pass.

“That hasn’t happened—and that Rafah was going to be a gigantic mass. Actually more than a million people were able to leave safely,” he said. “What kind of a nation that is committed to genocide would allow, ‘Get out, get out! We don’t want you to get hurt.'”

“That’s insulting,” Fetterman said. “There are people, whether they’re protesters or other people, calling that this is a genocide. That’s appalling.”

Fetterman told reporters that he is a Zionist.

“It’s crazy that now becomes a slur in some circles,” he said, adding that a reckoning is coming for the political left on Jew-hatred.

“Whether it’s somebody on a pup tent on a campus or blocking worshipers in Los Angeles getting into their synagogue,” he said. “It’s vile, and I don’t hear a lot of people on that side really being about that.”

A reporter asked Fetterman if he thinks that Israel’s leadership has made any crucial mistakes in its tactics, statements or decisions regarding humanitarian aid for residents of Gaza.

“If you’re interested in the armchair warriors, just hop on Twitter,” he said. “I’m waiting for the next Atlantic think piece that fix all of this.”

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