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Schumer calls Israeli PM an obstacle to peace

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for new elections in Israel, harshly criticising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace.

Democrat Schumer, long a supporter of Israel and the highest-ranking Jewish elected official, told the Senate that Mr Netanyahu’s government “no longer fits the needs of Israel” five months into a war that began with attacks on Israel by Hamas militants on 7 October.

“As a democracy, Israel has the right to choose its own leaders, and we should let the chips fall where they may. But the important thing is that Israelis are given a choice. There needs to be a fresh debate about the future of Israel after 7 October,” Mr Schumer said.

“In my opinion, that is best accomplished by holding an election,” he said.

Mr Schumer said it would be a “grave mistake” for Israel to reject a two-state solution and urged negotiators in the Israel-Gaza conflict to do everything possible to secure a ceasefire, free hostages and get aid into Gaza.

Mr Schumer and other leading Democrats, including US President Joe Biden, face intense criticism from within the party, over the United States’ unconditional support for Israel, given the impact on Palestinian civilians of Israel’s assault on Gaza.

The war erupted after fighters from Hamas killed 1,200 people in an attack on Israel and took 253 hostages back to Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

The Senate Majority Leader said Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas should also step aside

Israel’s retaliatory military campaign has killed at least 31,184 Palestinians and injured 72,889, according to authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Mr Schumer criticised Palestinians who support Hamas, and said Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas should also step aside.

“For there to be any hope of peace in the future, Mr Abbas must step down and be replaced by a new generation of Palestinian leaders who will work towards attaining peace with a Jewish State,” Mr Schumer said.

The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, quickly came to Mr Netanyahu’s defence in Senate remarks just after Mr Schumer’s unusually long 45-minute speech.

“It is grotesque… and hypocritical… for Americans who hyperventilate about foreign interference in our own democracy to call for the removal of the democratically elected leader of Israel. This is unprecedented,” he said.

Mr Schumer said the Israeli prime minister was too willing to ‘tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza’

While Mr Schumer did not mention the possibility of introducing legislation to tie the provision of US weapons to Israel easing the humanitarian crisis, as some Democrats advocate, Mr Schumer raised the possibility of the US using its leverage if Israel does not change course.

“If Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current coalition remains in power after the war begins to wind down, and continues to pursue dangerous and inflammatory policies that test existing US standards for assistance, then the United States will have no choice but to play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using our leverage to change the present course,” he said.

Mr Schumer’s speech reflected growing frustration in the US with Mr Netanyahu, his management of the war, failure to do more to protect Palestinian civilians and perceived obstruction of aid deliveries in Gaza.

“(Netanyahu) has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows,” Mr Schumer said.

“Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah,” he added.

Mr Biden’s administration is also unhappy with Mr Netanyahu’s staunch resistance to US calls to back a two-state solution, which the US sees as essential to helping to quell the conflict and achieving lasting peace.

This month’s welcome to the US by Mr Schumer and administration officials of Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz was widely seen as a snub to Mr Netanyahu, who has yet to be invited to the Biden White House.

Mr Gantz is a centrist politician who US officials hope will someday replace the prime minister.

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