News

Did Netanyahu Say Israel Has to Control Palestine 'From the River to the Sea'?

Among pro-Palestinian activists, “from the river to the sea” is a pro-freedom chant. Others view the slogan as antisemitic.

Published Jan 19, 2024

 (U.S. Embassy Jerusalem/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via U.S. Embassy Jerusalem/Wikimedia Commons

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Alleged remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a televised address on Jan. 18, 2024, went viral, with some news outlets and social media accounts claiming he said, "In the future, the state of Israel has to control the entire area from the river to the sea,” in reference to Palestinian territories.

Under the rumor's pretense, Netanyahu’s words, which he spoke in Hebrew, seemingly mimicked the pro-Palestinian activist slogan, “From the river to sea, Palestine will be free.” Some groups consider the slogan antisemitic because they believe it denies the existence of an Israeli state, while supporters believe its an egalitarian chant to support Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war.

Whether Netanyahu used the exact words "from the river to the sea" while describing what he wants Israel to control depends on a person's source for translating his remarks. News outlets reported varied Hebrew-to-English translations.

Specific phrasing aside, the meaning of Netanyahu's statement was not under question. No matter the translation, he called for Israeli control of all Palestinian territories, from the West Bank on the Jordan River to Gaza along the Mediterranean Sea. That call goes against U.S. foreign policy pushing for a two-state solution — that is, both an Israeli and Palestinian state within the territory.

According to a video recorded by the Israeli news outlet i24NEWS, an English narrator translated his remarks to be: "In the future, the state of Israel has to control the entire area from the river to the sea." i24NEWS's video narration claimed he said (emphasis ours):

For 30 years, I am being very consistent and I am saying something very simple. This conflict is not on the lack of a state of Palestinians, but the existence of a state, the Jewish state. Every area that we evacuate we receive terrible terror against us. It happened in South Lebanon, in Gaza, and also in Judea and Samaria [...] Therefore, I clarify that in any other arrangement, in the future, the state of Israel has to control the entire area from the river to the sea.

However, other news outlets published slightly different translations absent the pro-Palestine slogan, reporting he said Israel “must have security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River." The Guardian, The Associated Press, and Al Jazeera were among publications with that translation.

The New Republic, a progressive U.S.-based magazine, said that translation — Israel must control the entire area “west of the Jordan river” — meant "basically" the same thing as, "Israel must control the entire area from the river to the sea.”

As the rumor spread across social media, i24NEWS deleted its original post on X (formally Twitter) with its video of Netanyahu's speech — a post that contained the phrase "from the river to the sea" in its translation. Before that deletion, however, a number of media outlets and X users, including Middle East Eye (a U.K.-based outlet that covers the Middle East), reposted i24NEWS' translation.

The Jewish Press, a U.S.-based news outlet for the orthodox Jewish community, criticized i24NEWS' translation of Netanyahu's remarks. Responding to the assertion that Netanyahu said Israel has to control "the entire area from the river to the sea,” in reference to Palestinian territories, The Jewish Press said: "It should, and, God willing, it will, but, alas, he didn’t say it quite that way":

There was a media bruhaha over Netanyahu’s speech Thursday night, following the translation that was offered by the Israeli channel i24NEWS. They suggested Netanyahu promised that Israel would take over the entire area “from the river to the sea,” which would have been great, in light of three months of pro-Hamas demonstrators who have been drilling that line into our brains. What a pity, then, that Netanyahu said no such thing. Instead, he told the press conference [...]that Israel “must maintain security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River.”

After the in-question statement about Israeli control, Netanyahu said, according to The Associated Press, “This truth I tell to our American friends, and I put the brakes on the attempt to coerce us to a reality that would endanger the state of Israel." He added, "The prime minister needs to be capable of saying 'no' to our friends," Al Jazeera reported.

White House National Security Spokesperson John Kirby said in response to Netanyahu's remarks, according to a transcript of a Jan. 18 press briefing:  

This is — this is not a new comment by Prime Minister Netanyahu. We obviously see it differently. We believe that the Palestinians have every right to live in an independent state with peace and security. And the President and his team is going to continue to work on that.

Obviously, the focus right now is making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Hamas and — and that humanitarian aid and assistance continue to get to the desperate people of — of Gaza.

But there’s going to be a post-conflict Gaza. And we have been exceedingly clear about what we want to see that look like.  And we want governance in Gaza that’s representative of the aspirations of the Palestinian people, that they have a vote and a voice in what that looks like and that there’s no reoccupation of Gaza.

Sources

Israel, David. "Netanyahu Didn’t Say ‘From the River to the Sea,’ But He Did Promise Total Victory." Jewish Press, 19 Jan. 2024, https://www.jewishpress.com/special-features/israel-at-war-iron-swords/netanyahu-didnt-say-from-the-river-to-the-sea-but-he-did-promise-total-victory/2024/01/19/. Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.

“Israel’s Netanyahu Reiterates Rejection of Palestinian State after Gaza War.” Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/1/18/israels-netanyahu-reiterates-rejection-of-palestinian-state-after-gaza-war. Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.

"Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu Says He Opposes Palestinian State." www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xvszq05GL5w. Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.

“Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu Says He Opposes Palestinian State – Video.” The Guardian, 18 Jan. 2024. www.theguardian.com, https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2024/jan/18/israeli-pm-benjamin-netanyahu-says-he-opposes-palestinian-state-video. Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.

Marsi, Federica. “‘From the River to the Sea’: What Does the Palestinian Slogan Really Mean?” Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/11/2/from-the-river-to-the-sea-what-does-the-palestinian-slogan-really-mean. Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.

"Netanyahu: “In the Future, Israel Has to Control the Entire Area from the River to the Sea.”" www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8V96T8rIkFc. Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.

“Netanyahu Says He Has Told US He Opposes Palestinian State in Any Postwar Scenario.” AP News, 18 Jan. 2024, https://apnews.com/article/israel-hamas-war-news-01-18-2024-73d552c6e73e0dc3783a0a11b2b5f67d. Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.

“Netanyahu Says Israel Needs to Control ‘from the River to the Sea.’” Middle East Eye, https://www.middleeasteye.net/live-blog/live-blog-update/netanyahu-says-israel-needs-control-river-sea. Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.

Osgood, Ali Harb, Brian. “‘So What?’: Israeli PM Netanyahu Reiterates Rejection of Palestinian State.” Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/liveblog/2024/1/18/israels-war-on-gaza-live-medicine-arrives-for-captives-palestinians. Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.

“Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Olivia Dalton and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby En Route Morrisville, NC.” The White House, 18 Jan. 2024, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2024/01/18/press-gaggle-by-principal-deputy-press-secretary-olivia-dalton-and-nsc-coordinator-for-strategic-communications-john-kirby-en-route-morrisville-nc/.  Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.

Varkiani, Adrienne Mahsa, et al. “Benjamin Netanyahu Just Said ‘From the River to the Sea.’” The New Republic, 1 Nov. 2022. The New Republic, https://newrepublic.com/post/178243/benjamin-netanyahu-literally-says-from-the-river-to-the-sea. Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.