Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Israel on Sunday en route to the United Nations in New York, saying he will refute “all of the lies directed at us” with regard to Israel’s recently concluded war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu’s comments come after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas charged that Israel had committed “a series of absolute war crimes carried out before the eyes and ears of the entire world” during an address to the General Assembly on Friday.
“In this year, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Israel has chosen to make it a year of a new war of genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people,” he said.
With memories of the Nazi Holocaust still fresh in Israel, use of the word “genocide” is regarded as particularly provocative both to Netanyahu and Israelis in general.
An angry Netanyahu promised an appropriate response when he himself addresses the General Assembly on Monday.
“In my address to the UN General Assembly, I will refute all of the lies being directed at us and I will tell the truth about our state and about the heroic soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, the most moral army in the world,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu was to have a private meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday evening in New York, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
During the 50-day Gaza war, which ended Aug. 26, Israel launched thousands of airstrikes against what it said were Hamas-linked targets in the densely populated coastal territory, while Gaza militants fired several thousand rockets at Israel. More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, the vast majority civilians, and some 18,000 homes were destroyed, according to U.N. figures. Sixty-six soldiers and six civilians were killed on the Israeli side.
The devastating war weakened Abbas domestically, with his Hamas rivals enjoying a surge of popularity among Palestinians for fighting Israel.
He is under pressure at home to come up with a new political strategy after his repeated but failed attempts to establish a Palestinian state through U.S.-mediated negotiations with Israel.
But his remarks at the UN appear to have alienated many mainstream Israelis, beyond just Netanyahu and members of his rightwing government.
“Genocide is a term that shouldn’t be bandied about frivolously,” wrote Nahum Barnea in the mass circulation Yediot Ahronot daily. “In diplomatic and legal terms, it is on par with a declaration of war.”