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

By AFP - Mar 21,2023 - Last updated at Mar 21,2023

Israeli forces patrol the town of Huwara, in the occupied West Bank, following a shooting attack on an Israeli vehicle in the area, on Sunday (AFP photo)

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories — 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, one of the most right-wing in the country's history.

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 "are consistent with the first Zionist sayings of 'a land without a people for a people without a land'".

They provided "conclusive evidence of the extremist, racist Zionist ideology... of the current Israeli government", Shtayyeh argued.

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."



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 between the Palestinians and Israelis”, according to a joint statement.

The Jordanian foreign ministry on Monday condemned the minister’s remarks, calling them “extremist racism” and Smotrich himself an “extremist”.

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.

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 UN, told AFP: “Lawmakers have the right to say whatever they want.”

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 the nearby village of Zaatara.

Speaking last month, the United Nations’ Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland called for the “cycle of violence” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be “stopped immediately”.

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

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