Netanyahu cancels Israeli delegation to U.S. over UN Gaza vote

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Netanyahu cancels Israeli delegation to U.S. over UN Gaza vote

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Jerusalem, February 18, 2024. 

Ronen Zvulun | Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said he will not send a delegation as planned to Washington after the United States refrained from vetoing a U.N. Security Council proposal calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Netanyahu, according to a statement from his office, said that Washington’s failure to block the proposal was a “clear retreat” from its previous position, and would hurt war efforts against Hamas, as well as efforts to release over 130 hostages in Gaza captivity.

“In light of the change in the American position, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided the delegation would not leave,” his office said.

The U.N. Security Council voted to demand an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages. The United States abstained from the vote.

The White House denied that the U.S. abstention reflected a change in American policy.

The high-level delegation was due to travel to Washington to discuss a planned Israeli military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians are taking shelter.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby fielded queries about Israel’s decision to pull out of the meeting this week just as Netanyahu was announcing it.

Kirby said the decision was unfortunate but that the United States would bring up its concerns about Israel’s policies as part of ongoing discussions between the two governments.

“It’s disappointing. We’re very disappointed that they won’t be coming to Washington DC to allow us to have a fulsome conversation with them about viable alternatives to them going in on the ground in Rafah.”

“Nothing has changed about our view that a major ground offensive in Rafah would be a major mistake,” Kirby said.

He said discussions between visiting Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others would cover the same points that the U.S. team had planned to raise with the delegation.

In Israel, parliamentary opposition leader Yair Lapid accused Netanyahu of trying to divert attention away from a rift in his coalition over a military conscription bill at the expense of ties with the United States.

“It’s shocking irresponsibility from a prime minister who has lost it,” Lapid wrote on social media platform X.

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