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5 key lines from Sen. Schumer's speech calling Israel's Netanyahu an 'obstacle to peace'

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, the highest ranking Jewish member of the U.S. government, delivered an extraordinary speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday that criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the war in Gaza and called for new elections in Israel.

Republicans in the United States and leaders in Israel swiftly denounced his remarks.

“It is highly inappropriate and simply wrong for Senator Schumer to be calling for new elections in Israel,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell concurred. “It is grotesque and hypocritical for Americans who hyperventilate about foreign interference in our own democracy to call for the removal of a democratically elected leader of Israel. This is unprecedented,” he said in his own statement.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. (Mariam Zuhaib/AP)

But many Democrats who have been calling on President Biden to pressure Netanyahu to negotiate a ceasefire in Gaza, applauded Schumer’s remarks.

"This is a gutsy, historic speech from Leader Schumer. I know he didn't arrive at this conclusion casually or painlessly," Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii wrote in a message posted on X.

Schumer, long one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in Congress, placed blame on Hamas for starting the war with its Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed nearly 1,200 people. But Schumer also echoed many within his party in describing Israel’s retaliation, which has left more than 30,000 Palestinians dead, as disproportionate.

Here are 5 key lines from Schumer’s speech:

‘Netanyahu has lost his way’

While taking pains to note that he has had a long relationship with Netanyahu and that he respects his devotion to Israel, Schumer added that the prime minister “has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel."

‘Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah’

Many Democrats have expressed the widely held global view that Israel needs to be more mindful of civilian casualties as it battles Hamas militants in Gaza. On Thursday, Schumer said that sentiment was itself a threat to Israel’s existence.

“He has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows. Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah,” he said.

Calls for a new election

While Israel normally holds elections every four years, under the rules of its parliamentary democracy, new elections can be called when a simple majority in the Knesset, its governing legislature, dissolves itself and calls for new ones to be held.

Schumer said Thursday that the time had come for such a move.

"At this critical juncture, I believe a new election is the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel, at a time when so many Israelis have lost their confidence in the vision and direction of their government," Schumer said, adding that the timing of a new election should take place “once the war starts to wind down.”

Reiterates call for a two-state solution

"The only real and sustainable solution to this decades-old conflict is a negotiated two-state solution — a demilitarized Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in equal measures of peace, security, prosperity, dignity and mutual recognition," he said.

Schumer added that the U.S. should demand that its support for Israel be linked to a commitment to a future Palestinian state.

“We should not be forced into a position of unequivocally supporting the actions of an Israeli government that includes bigots who reject the idea of a Palestinian state,” he said.

Palestinian Authority President Abbas ‘must step down’

Schumer also said in his speech that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who leads Palestinians in the West Bank, needed to be replaced by someone younger.

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

In fact, Abbas made a gesture in that direction on Thursday, naming Mohammad Mustafa as his successor.