JERUSALEM/ DUBAI: The Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan have condemned as “racist” a firebrand Israeli minister’s remarks denying the existence of the Palestinian people, with Amman summoning Israel’s ambassador for a rebuke.
Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is part of veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government that took office in December.
Smotrich had already faced international rebuke in early March after calling for a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank to be “wiped out” after its settlers rampaged through it, killing one Palestinian and setting fire to cars and homes.
“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.
A Jordanian official told media on Tuesday that Israel had reassured the kingdom that Smotrich’s behavior, which included standing at a podium adorned with a map of an Israeli flag that included Jordan and the Palestinian territories, did not represent its position.
On Monday, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said he had been told by Israel’s national security adviser that Israel respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbour.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said before 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.”
Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for United Nations 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,” Haq said.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief also criticized Smotrich’s statement.
“I have to deplore these unacceptable comments by minister Smotrich,” said Joseph Borrell. “It is wrong, it is disrespectful, it is dangerous and it is counterproductive to say these kinds of things in a situation which is already tense.” (Int’l Monitoring Desk)