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When discussing the ongoing Israel/Hamas war, the following quotes occasionally come up.

Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas

This is part of our strategy – to isolate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in the West Bank.

These were supposedly said by Netanyahu in March of 2019.

If true, then this would be pretty incriminating, considering that Hamas had long been recognized as a terrorist organization by that time.

I tried to track down the source of this claim, and every source I found referenced this column in Haaretz, but that is where the trail runs cold. Archive link

The column makes no mention of how they know that Netanyahu said this

If Netanyahu really said this, the implications are big. So big, that I'm not ready to take some columnist's word for it.

Where did this quote come from? Is it reliable?

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Yes, certainly

This isn't a hidden point in Israeli media,

  • Times of Israel

    According to various reports, Netanyahu made a similar point at a Likud faction meeting in early 2019, when he was quoted as saying that those who oppose a Palestinian state should support the transfer of funds to Gaza, because maintaining the separation between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

  • Hareetz quoting Gershon Hacohen, a major general that oversaw the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza,

    We need to tell the truth! Netanyahu’s strategy is to prevent the option of two states. So he is turning Hamas into his closest partner. Hamas is an enemy covertly. It’s now also an ally.

    You may think he said this from a place of disagreement, or that he was trying to speak truth to power. But no; he agrees fully (from the Times of Israel's interview).

    This is also why, he added, "I prefer Hamas to Abu Mazen." Because Hamas "helps me prevent a two-state solution" and is, covertly "an ally, because neither it nor I want a final solution and neither in my terms nor in its is there something that is everlasting."

  • Jpost

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel’s regular allowing of Qatari funds to be transferred into Gaza, saying it is part of a broader strategy to keep Hamas and the Palestinian Authority separate, a source in Monday’s Likud faction meeting said.

  • Ynetnews, from Nadav Eyal

    For a long time, Israel chose not to weaken Hamas in order to undermine the Palestinian Authority. The belief, shared by Benjamin Netanyahu, Bezalel Smotrich, and others, was that the extremist nature of Hamas and the division between the PA and the Gaza Strip served Israel's interests. By maintaining this division, the possibility of a unified Palestinian partner capable of negotiating political concessions with Israel was effectively rejected.

Hamas's origin; blowback at best

And much of the political persuasion which is "anything to stop a unified Palestinian movement" predates both Likud and Netanyahu, take it from US based (and heavily pro-Israel) Wall-Street Journal

"Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel's creation," says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel's destruction. Instead of trying to curb Gaza's Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat's Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas. Sheikh Yassin continues to inspire militants today; during the recent war in Gaza, Hamas fighters confronted Israeli troops with "Yassins," primitive rocket-propelled grenades named in honor of the cleric.

The mechanism here was pretty simple. Sheikh Yassin ran a chairty,

In the 1970s, the Islamists in Palestine were mostly peaceful, and Ahmed Yassin spent this period of his life doing charity work and building Islamic community centres. Israel even gave him funding for his charitable work.

Note at that time, in the 1970s, Yassin was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He wasn't known to be a militant (at least from declassified and public information) until 1984 when he was busted stockpiling weapons (so there seems to still be some degree of plausible deniability). And, Yassin wouldn't start Hamas until 1987. In order to set back the PLO and Arafat, Israel got behind Islamists that had an audience and could challenge state power by funding their charities in an attempt to delegitimize the Palestinian proto-state.

In the words of Avi Issacharoff (who, by the way, is extremely genocidal) and I'd suggest reading the full article,

Listen, what we’ve created with our own hands is crazy. We’ve created a monster – the strongest force in the region – and they hit us very hard – like nothing before.

Nuance, and "material support"

Is allowing Qatari funds to be distributed to Hamas, "support of Hamas"? Certainly, at least that's the standard that already exists. But it doesn't take proof by action when Netanyahu and his government say the things above. In the United States the Patriot Act makes "providing material support to terrorists" a crime. It also applies to non-citizens, and those operating outside of the USA. How does this apply here? We have Americans in prison for allowing charity funds to go to schools administered by Hamas. From renowned Israeli Jew Miko Peled, as published by Truthout

Although all funds raised by the charity had gone to humanitarian aid and the government had found no illegal financial transactions by HLF, prosecutors relied on Executive Order 12947 issued by President Clinton on January 23, 1995, which prohibits financial transactions with any “Specially Designated” organizations. By the time HLF was shut down, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance movement, known as Hamas, was one of these organizations. The prosecution’s theory was that, by supporting needy Palestinians, HLF had “freed up” Hamas’ own assets to fund terrorist attacks, and that if Palestinians knew that HLF would provide support for their families if assistance became necessary, they would be more likely to become suicide bombers.

This is not an argument I find convincing, but it is merely holding Israel up to the standard that it expects from others.

Administration officials said that during an Oval Office meeting on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked Bush to move against the Holy Land Foundation, and the president speedily obliged. "We -- bam -- did it," a senior official said.

At the point that humanitarian aid to Gaza is "material support for terrorism" Qatari funds are (at best) the same thing, and certainly Likud knew it was a practical party to the transaction by refusing to act against funds it would normally act against despite having obvious and explicit knowledge.

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Yes and no.

He did say it, or at least the evidence show that he said it.

However, in proper context it does not have the same meaning as you seem to attribute to it in the question. In short, it should be interpreted as "I want to keep Hamas alive to prevent the PLA from taking control of Gaza, and if I'll give them money they will not attack Israel" and not "I want to keep Hamas alive so that it would become stronger and more aggressive towards Israel". Since the attack on Oct 7th the discussion in Israel is about the "concept" of giving Hamas money (and other concessions) will buy Israel quite and how it crumbled on Oct 7th. For example a (Hebrew) article in Calcalist talking about it The money-for-quiet concept collapsed on October 7.

Regarding the quote itself, the Israeli site the The Seventh Eye fact checked this exact quote due to a debate between the editors of the Hebrew Wikipedia in an article called In real time Netanyahu did not deny.

ידיעה מאת כתבת ה"ג'רוזלם פוסט" להב הרקוב ממרץ 2019, תחת הכותרת "נתניהו: כסף לחמאס הוא חלק מאסטרטגיה להשאיר את הפלסטינים מחולקים".

...

לפי הדיווח של הרקוב מ-2019, בישיבת סיעת הליכוד ב-11 במרץ, אמר נתניהו כי "מי שמתנגד למדינה פלסטינית צריך לתמוך" בהעברת כספים לעזה כיוון שההפרדה בין הרשות הפלסטינית בגדה המערבית לחמאס בעזה מסייעת למנוע הקמת מדינה פלסטינית. הרקוב ציינה בדיווחה כי גם הציטוטים הישירים שהכניסה אל בין מירכאות הן פרפרזה על דברי ראש הממשלה, ששמעה מפי המקור שלה בכנסת.

בשיחה עם "העין השביעית" מספרת הרקוב כי בזמן אמת לא נתקלה בהכחשות מצד נתניהו או אחד ממקורביו לציטוט והבהירה כי גם כיום היא עומדת מאחורי הפרסום שלה.

היא עצמה, כך היא אומרת, לא היתה הראשונה לדווח על דברי נתניהו בדבר הצורך לתמוך בחמאס באותה שיחה עם חברי-הכנסת מהליכוד. לדבריה, נתקלה בדיווח על הדברים והחליטה לאמת אותם. בעקבות זאת שוחחה עם חבר-כנסת מסיעת הליכוד שאישר לה את דברי נתניהו. הרקוב אינה זוכרת כעת מה היה אותו דיווח בגינו פנתה לברר את הסוגיה, אולם היא זוכרת היטב את דברי המקור עצמו. "אני זוכרת עם איזה חבר כנסת דיברתי", מוסיפה הרקוב, "אני פשוט לא אספר".

an article by "Jerusalem Post" reporter Lahav Harkov from March 2019, under the title "Netanyahu: Money to Hamas part of strategy to keep Palestinians divided".

...

According to Harkov's report from 2019, at the Likud faction meeting on March 11, Netanyahu said that "those who oppose a Palestinian state should support" the transfer of funds to Gaza because the separation between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza helps prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Harkov stated in her report that even the direct quotes she inserted between quotation marks are a paraphrase of the prime minister's words, which she heard from her source in the Knesset.

In a conversation with The Seventh Eye Harkov says that in real time she did not encounter any denials from Netanyahu or any of his associates about the quote and clarified that even today she stands behind her publication.

She herself, so she says, was not the first to report Netanyahu's words regarding the need to support Hamas in the same conversation with members of the Knesset from the Likud. According to her, she came across a report about the things and decided to verify them. Following this, she spoke with a member of Knesset from the Likud faction who confirmed Netanyahu's words to her. Harkov does not remember now what was the original report that caused her to inquire about the issue, but she remembers very well the words of the source himself. "I remember which Knesset member I spoke with," Harkov adds, "I just won't tell."

The original article is available at: Netanyahu: Money to Hamas part of strategy to keep Palestinians divided

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    So the answer is really "yes and yes" because you're making a red herring of something that the OP's quote doesn't say. I'd grant you that the OP added besides the quote "the implications are big". The same can be said about US support for the mujahedeen in Afghanistan. Unintended consequences were big later down the road. Nov 13, 2023 at 21:29
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    In case somebody wonders: "Some of the CIA's greatest Afghan beneficiaries were Arabist commanders such as Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who were key allies of Bin Laden over many years.[30][31] Haqqani—one of Bin Laden's closest associates in the 1980s—received direct cash payments from CIA agents, without the mediation of the ISI. This independent source of funding gave Haqqani disproportionate influence over the mujahideen, and helped Bin Laden develop his base." -- Wikipedia. "CIA didn't fund bin Laden, BUT ..." Nov 13, 2023 at 21:39
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    @Fizz For the record when the big implications I was talking about was the implication that Netanyahu really does reject a 2-state solution, and that he's willing to increase the volatility of the situation in order to sabotage one. Keep in mind that in 2019 everybody knew that Hamas was a terrorist organization who was intent on eliminating Israel, and had no aversion towards killing Israeli civilians. Nov 13, 2023 at 21:58
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    If you wanted to a bit of depth to this, Likud did that knowing the risks for quite a while, because they had [publicly] adopted the "mowing the grass" strategy: Hamas shoots some rockets, we bomb them back a bit. (And now they're gonna have to "plough the field" to coin a new euphemism.) Nov 13, 2023 at 21:59
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    And a more subtle point, although I'm not sure any official articulated this: "for deterrence to work, you don’t want your enemy to become too weak. A weaker Hamas makes rogue attacks more likely [...in 2014] Hamas had little to lose — and potentially much to gain — by restarting the conflict". Nov 13, 2023 at 22:24

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