Netanyahu Rejects Schumer Call for Israeli Election

The rift over the war in Gaza between Israel and the United States, its closest ally, broadened on Sunday when Israel’s prime minister accused a top-ranking American lawmaker of treating his country like a “banana republic.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing increasing pressure to negotiate a cease-fire, lashed out at Senator Chuck Schumer over his call for elections to be held in Israel when the war winds down. In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Mr. Netanyahu suggested that Mr. Schumer, the Senate majority leader, was trying to topple his government and said his call for an election was “totally inappropriate.”

“That’s something that Israel, the Israeli public, does on its own,” he said. “We’re not a banana republic.”

On Thursday, Mr. Schumer, a Democrat from New York who is the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the United States, delivered a scathing speech on the Senate floor, accusing Mr. Netanyahu of letting his political survival supersede “the best interests of Israel” and of being “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza.”

The speech was indicative of the widening gap between Israel and the United States over the war and mounting frustrations in Washington with Mr. Netanyahu’s policies. President Biden praised Mr. Schumer’s speech, though he stopped short of endorsing the call for a new election.

Among the most contentious issues: how to get food and aid into the Gaza Strip.

With the humanitarian crisis worsening, the United States this month started airdropping food and water into the enclave. On Friday, a maritime shipment of aid reached northern Gaza’s shores, the first to do so in nearly two decades. Another shipment of essential goods is expected to soon set sail for Gaza from Cyprus.

Over the next few weeks, the United States is planning to build a floating dock off Gaza’s shores that the White House has said could eventually help deliver as many as two million meals in Gaza each day.

All of these efforts are designed to get more aid into Gaza, where the United Nations says severe hunger and malnutrition are alarmingly rampant. But however welcome the initiatives, experts and humanitarian groups say the best way to stave off famine is to broker a cease-fire between the Israelis and Hamas, which attacked Israel on Oct. 7, setting off the war.

“We cannot stack up aid to the level that is needed, and we cannot keep it safe for both people delivering it and the people receiving it, as long as there’s still an active war going on,” said Sarah Schiffling, an expert on humanitarian logistics and supply chains at the Hanken School of Economics in Finland.

Cease-fire talks are expected to pick up speed in the coming days.

On Sunday, a second ship towing aid prepared to depart for Gaza as the founder of the food charity behind it, José Andrés, called for a cease-fire and said that Israel should be doing more to prevent hunger in the embattled enclave.

“At the very least, if they don’t stop the military advance, to make sure that nobody’s hungry and that nobody’s without food and water,” he said in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“This is something that should be happening overnight, but for political reasons, I guess, it’s not happening there,” he added.

Mr. Andrés said he hoped to scale up his group’s operations to bring “huge quantities of food daily into the shores of Gaza.”

Though the ships dispatched by World Central Kitchen, Mr. Andrés’s charity, have attracted global attention in recent days, maritime deliveries have so far provided just a tiny fraction of the aid that the United Nations says is needed to avert famine. He said that without question overland deliveries were needed, but that his group was doing what was possible.

“More is more,” he said.

The first ship, the Open Arms, which towed a barge to a makeshift jetty off Gaza on Friday, brought the territory the equivalent of about 10 truckloads of food — far less than the 500 trucks a day aid groups say are needed.

Aid groups have pleaded for Israel to allow more trucks into Gaza through more land crossings, saying that only a stream of trucks — not more attention-grabbing methods such as airdrops or the ships — can sustain Gaza’s population. World Central Kitchen has itself sent more than 1,400 aid trucks into Gaza by land and opened more than 60 community kitchens within Gaza to serve hot meals, it said.

Yet only about 150 trucks have been entering Gaza through the two open land crossings each day, according to U.N. data, because of a number of factors, including lengthy Israeli inspections to enforce stringent restrictions on what can enter Gaza.

The limitations at those entry points have set off a scramble for creative solutions among donors such as the European Union, which helped set up the Cyprus-to-Gaza maritime route, and the United States, which is leading the effort to build a temporary floating pier off Gaza’s coast to accommodate more deliveries by ship.

The U.S. has also been airdropping aid. On Sunday the U.S. military dropped nearly 29,000 meals and 34,500 bottles of water in northern Gaza, it said on social media. Little aid has arrived in the north since Israel’s assault on the territory cut it off from the south early in the war.

In remarks on Sunday to his government, Mr. Netanyahu stressed that Israel would continue fighting in Gaza until “complete victory,” and vowed that the army would invade Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians have huddled in crowded shelters, tent encampments and the homes of friends and relatives.

“We will operate in Rafah,” he said. “That is the only way to eliminate the rest of Hamas’s brigades of murderers, and that is the only way to apply the necessary military pressure to free all of our hostages.”

He said Israel had approved the military’s plans to operate in Rafah, including measures to move the civilian population from combat areas.

Mr. Biden has said that Israel should not proceed with an operation in Rafah without “a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there,” according to the White House.

Displaced Palestinians in Rafah, weary from nearly six months of war, have said they are terrified that a ground invasion of the city could end in mass civilian casualties.

Adam Rasgon reported from Jerusalem, Vivian Yee from Cairo, and Gaya Guptaand David Segal from New York. Vivek Shankar and Minho Kim contributed reporting.

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