Israeli finance minister says ‘no such thing’ as Palestinian people

Published March 20, 2023
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks at a news conference in Jerusalem, Israel, January 8. — Reuters
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks at a news conference in Jerusalem, Israel, January 8. — Reuters

An Israeli minister with responsibility for the administration of the occupied West Bank drew condemnation on Monday after he said there was no Palestinian history or culture and no such thing as a Palestinian people.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who triggered global outrage earlier this month when he called for a Palestinian town to be “erased”, made the remarks on Sunday in a conference speech during a visit to France.

“Is there a Palestinian history or culture? There is none,” he can be heard saying in footage of the speech shared widely on social media. “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people.”

As he made the speech, he stood at a podium covered in what appeared to be a variation of the Israeli flag that showed an Israeli state with expanded boundaries that included the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and Jordan.

A spokesperson for Smotrich, head of one of the religious-nationalist parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition, said the flag was set decoration by the conference organisers and that the minister was a guest.

Smotrich made the speech on the same day that Israeli and Palestinian officials met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for de-escalation talks ahead of the holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover holiday.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned Smotrich’s remarks, saying they amounted to incitement to violence.

A separate statement by the Palestinian foreign ministry said that, by denying the existence of the Palestinian people and their legitimate national rights in their homeland, Israeli leaders “foster an environment that fuels Jewish extremism and terrorism against our people”.

Such positions “continue the spiral of violence with the aim of sabotaging efforts to achieve calm”.

After two Jewish settlers were killed by a gunman near the West Bank town of Huwara last month, and settlers responded by torching homes and cars there, killing one Palestinian, Smotrich said Huwara should be “erased”. In the face of international condemnation of the remark, he later said he “misspoke”, but he did not apologise.

The West Bank has seen a surge of confrontations over the past year, with near-daily Israeli military raids and escalating violence by Jewish settlers.

Over the past year, Israeli forces have killed more than 250 Palestinians while more than 40 Israelis and foreigners have died in Palestinian attacks.

Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, areas Israel captured in a 1967 war.

US-brokered peace talks have been stalled since 2014 and Palestinians say Israel has undermined their hope for a viable state by expanding Jewish settlements on occupied land.

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