Israeli minister’s ‘no Palestinians’ tirade sparks Arab outcry

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The Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan on Monday criticized as “racist” statements of firebrand Israeli ministers denying that the Palestinian people, with Amman summoned the Israeli ambassador for 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 faced international condemnation in early March after he called for the “destruction” of a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank, amid spiraling violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There are no Palestinians, because there are no 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 in the media social.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said before a cabinet meeting on Monday that Smotrich’s “inflammatory statements” provided “conclusive evidence of the extremist, racist Zionist ideology… of the current Israeli government”.

Portraying biblical “prophets” 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 appoint fake people and demand fake rights for 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, called the minister’s remarks “absolutely unhelpful”, emphasizing the Palestinian people’s “obvious” existence.

“We continue to support their rights and push for a two-state solution,” Haq said.

– Jordan’s rebuke –

The minister, who did not meet any officials of the French government during his trip, was speaking from a lectern with a map of the so-called Greater Israel, including the West Bank, Golan Heights attached, blocking the Strip Gaza and Jordan – the neighboring Arab country that signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War, when it also captured 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-Sheikh along with Egyptian, Jordanian and US officials for “extensive discussions on ways to de-escalate tensions, ” according to a joint statement.

Jordan’s foreign ministry called the remarks “extreme racism” on Monday and warned that the “use of a map … that includes the border of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” could be in violation of the 1994 peace accord.

Israel’s foreign ministry tweeted shortly after to clarify that “Israel is committed to the 1994 peace agreement with Jordan” and “recognizes the territorial integrity of the Hashemite Kingdom”, without commenting on the content of the speech.

In a follow-up statement, the Jordanian ministry said it had called the Israeli ambassador to “get a strong letter of protest to convey to his government”.

Egypt, which in 1979 was the first Arab country to recognize 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.

– ‘Obviously’ false –

Smotrich, who lives in a West Bank settlement, called in early March for the Palestinian town of Huwara to be “destroyed” after two Israelis were shot dead there by an alleged Hamas militant, he said he walked back later.

Hundreds of Israeli settlers ransacked Palestinian homes and cars in Huawara after the shooting, and a Palestinian man was killed in a nearby village.

Violence has escalated in the West Bank in recent months, and there are fears it will escalate further during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this week.

The Israeli defense ministry body responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories on Monday eased a series of restrictions in order to allow more Palestinians to worship at Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, during Ramadan.

He said that women of all ages and men 55 and older from the West Bank will be allowed free access to Jerusalem for Friday prayers at the compound.

Earlier on Monday, Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, another extreme figure in the cabinet, ordered the closure of the east Jerusalem office of the West Bank-based Palestinian public broadcaster.

He accused him of “inciting and supporting terror” and said he was not licensed to operate from the annexed territory.

Ahmad Assaf, the head of the Palestinian broadcaster, condemned the move and told AFP it was a “crime against journalism”.

Since the beginning 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 were killed over the same period, according to AFP tallies based on official sources from both sides.

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