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Schumer calls for new elections in Israel, says ‘grave mistake’ to dismiss two-state solution

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer offered a vision of a peaceful future for Israel and Palestine on Thursday in a floor speech in which he called on the president and his fellow lawmakers to embrace the concept of a separate, legitimised Palestinian state and called for a new government in Jerusalem.

Mr Schumer said on Wednesday that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s controversial prime minister, was not part of a productive path forward for the region and said that new elections should be held in the country. Mr Netanyahu’s support of a brutal assault upon the Gaza Strip while aid has only trickled into the territory has drawn the ire of president Joe Biden and other Democrats, who are facing a political price in their own party as images of the carnage appear across social media and television.

“Palestinian civilians do not deserve to suffer for the sins of Hamas, and Israel has a moral obligation to do better,” said Mr Schumer in his floor speech.

“The Netanyahu coalition no longer fits the needs of Israel,” he continued. “The Israeli people are being stifled right now by a governing vision that is stuck in the past.”

He later described the prime minister as an “obstacle” to lasting peace in the region.

The Democratic leader’s remarks drew an immediate dissent from Senator John Fetterman, a freshman Democrat who has emerged as Israel’s most vocal supporter in the Senate Democratic caucus since the war began last October. Mr Fetterman told The Independent in an interview after Mr Schumer’s speech that he supports “the Israeli leader...that we have” and added that he would be supportive of “any leader that Israeli citizens elect”.

Republicans also opposed his position, with Speaker of the House Mike Johnson declaring them “just plain wrong” at a press conference alongside GOP House leadership after the senator’s speech.

"We want to speak very clearly and concisely to say that this is not only highly inappropriate, but just plain wrong for an American leader to play such a divisive role in Israeli politics,” Mr Johnson said.

The war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza has raged for months since a bloody terrorist attack on Israeli soil last October ended with more than 1,200 dead. Since that attack, the siege of Gaza has resulted in an additional 30,000-plus dead and thousands more injured and facing hellish conditions including dehydration, starvation and lack of electricity. Millions of residents have poured into the south of Gaza as the north has been almost entirely flattened by the Israeli military and debates are now raging over whether the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) will begin a full invasion of the south as well.

Support for the Israeli government and America’s role in funding and supplying the country has frayed among Democrats in particular as images of the dead and wounded have become increasingly visible. Footage appearing to show a crowd of civilians approaching an aid convoy and being fired upon by Israeli troops, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 people, escalated demands for the Israeli government to allow more aid to be safely distributed in southern Gaza.

Mr Netanyahu currently holds power in Israel thanks to a coalition his party formed with other far-right factions in late 2022. The factions have been blamed for stoking tensions with Palestinians including their support for the Israeli “settler” movement, which the White House has taken steps to sanction for violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and elsewhere.

Mr Netanyahu’s relationship with the United States has deteriorated significantly over the past few months, never having been rock solid in the first place thanks in large part to his closeness to and support for Donald Trump – Mr Biden’s 2020 and most likely 2024 presidential opponent. After the president’s State of the Union address last week, Mr Biden was heard telling Democratic lawmakers about a recent conversation with the Israeli leader in which he had supposedly told Mr Netanyahu that the two would soon have a “come-to-Jesus” meeting.

Mr Schumer’s words on Thursday are likely to bolster the sentiments of progressives in the Senate and House of Representatives who have criticised the Israeli military’s assault on Gaza. One of those progressives, Senator Bernie Sanders, has repeatedly called for the US Congress to cease writing Mr Netanyahu a “blank check” for his country’s war effort.

One of his allies in the chamber, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, concurred with the leader’s call for new elections in his own remarks to reporters.

“I think the sooner that Netanyahu is gone, the better,” he was reported as saying.

White House national security communications adviser John Kirby told reporters on Thursday the Senate leader gave the White House advance notice of his remarks but stressed that it was done as a courtesy and was not “about approval, or disapproval or editing in any way”.

“We know the leader Schumer feels strongly about this ... we’re gonna stay focused on making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself while doing everything that they can to avoid civilian casualties and, of course, we’re still focused, laser-focused, on trying to get a temporary ceasefire in place so that we can get the hostages out and get more aid in,” he said.