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Tuesday July 16, 2024

Palestinians blast ´racist ideology´ in Israeli minister´s speech

"There are no Palestinians because there isn’t a Palestinian people," he said on Sunday in Paris

By AFP
March 21, 2023
Israel´s Finance Minister and leader of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich attends a meeting at the parliament, Knesset, in Jerusalem on March 20, 2023. —AFP
Israel´s Finance Minister and leader of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich attends a meeting at the parliament, Knesset, in Jerusalem on March 20, 2023. —AFP

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority on Monday called an Israeli minister’s remarks denying the existence of the Palestinian people "conclusive evidence" of the Israeli government’s "racist ideology".

Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, is part of veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s government that took office in December, a coalition with ultra-Orthodox Jewish and extreme-right allies.

Smotrich, who has a history of incendiary remarks, faced international rebuke earlier this month after calling for a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank to be "wiped out".

"There are no Palestinians because there isn’t a Palestinian people," he said on Sunday in Paris, quoting French-Israeli Zionist activist Jacques Kupfer at an event in his memory, according to a video circulating on social media.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said ahead of a cabinet meeting on Monday the "inflammatory statements" made by Smotrich provided "conclusive evidence of the extremist, racist Zionist ideology... of the current Israeli government".

Evoking biblical "prophecies" that are "beginning to come true", Smotrich said: "After 2,000 years... God is gathering his people. The people of Israel are returning home."

"There are Arabs around who don’t like it, so what do they do? They invent a fictitious people and claim fictitious rights to the Land of Israel, only to fight the Zionist movement," he said.

"It is the historical truth, it is the biblical truth," he added.

"The Arabs in Israel must hear it, as well as certain Jews in Israel who are confused — this truth must be heard here at the Elysee Palace (in Paris), and at the White House in Washington, and everyone must hear this truth."

Jordan border spat

The minister, who met no French government officials during his trip, was speaking from a lectern which featured a map of so-called Greater Israel, including the West Bank, annexed Golan Heights, blockaded Gaza Strip and Jordan — the neighbouring Arab country that signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six-Day War of 1967 when it also seized east Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.

Smotrich’s comments came as Israeli and Palestinian representatives met in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Shiekh along with Egyptian, Jordanian and US officials for "extensive discussions on ways to de-escalate tensions," according to a joint statement.

The Jordanian foreign ministry on Monday called the remarks "extremist racism".

It warned in a statement that his "use of a map... that encompasses the border of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan" may be in violation of the 1994 peace accord.

The Israeli foreign ministry tweeted shortly afterwards to clarify "Israel is committed to the 1994 peace agreement with Jordan" and "recognises the territorial integrity of the Hashemite Kingdom", without mentioning the content of the speech.

Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab country to recognise and sign a peace treaty with Israel, condemned the "inflammatory and unacceptable" as well as "racist" remarks, Cairo’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist rulers, said the comments revealed the "racist and fascist policies" of Israel and urged the international community to take a "firm stance".

Asked about what Smotrich had said, Danny Danon, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, told AFP: "Lawmakers have the right to say whatever they want."

‘Obviously’ false

Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, dubbed the minister’s remarks "completely unhelpful", stressing the Palestinian people "obviously" exists.

"We continue to support their rights and to push for a two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.

Smotrich had called in early March for the Palestinian town of Huwara to be "wiped out" after two Israelis were shot dead there by an alleged Hamas militant.

After the shooting, hundreds of rampaging Israeli settlers torched Palestinian homes and cars in the West Bank town, and a Palestinian man was killed in a nearby village.

Violence has intensified in the West Bank in recent months, coinciding with Netanyahu’s return to the office.

Since the start of the year, the conflict has claimed the lives of 86 Palestinian adults and children, including militants and civilians.

Fourteen Israeli adults and children, including members of the security forces and civilians, and one Ukrainian civilian have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.