"Palestinians Don't Exist" — The Israeli Minister's Shock Declaration That Can't Be Unsaid
In a speech in Paris, Bezalel Smotrich, Israel's finance minister, denied the existence of the Palestinians, sparking angry reactions in Ramallah, Amman and Brussels. But Israel's extreme right is not afraid of provoking a violent crisis with the Palestinians.
PARIS — Bezalel Smotrich would like to set fire to the Palestinian Territories. This is not the first time the Israeli Minister of Finance has made such an inflammatory statement. But what he said on Sunday evening in Paris has provoked a strong reaction.
The far-right leader, who lives in a West Bank settlement and is now a minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, said what he was thinking: "The Palestinian people are an invention which is less than 100 years old. Do they have a history, a culture? No, they don't. There are no Palestinians. There are just Arabs."
If these words were not enough, the podium at which he spoke was decorated with a map of "Greater Israel," which included not only the West Bank but also Jordan, with which Israel has a peace treaty.
Denying a people's existence
Bezalel Smotrich is consistent. He had this opinion before joining the government, and he continues to repeat it now that he is a minister — though his words now carry additional weight. He repeated it during a tribute in Paris to Jacques Kupfer, an extreme right-wing leader in France and Israel who opposed making any agreements with Palestinians.
"The Palestinians have never existed."
Denying the existence of another people should be an unbreakable taboo for a Jewish leader in Israel. But this is not a new position. In 1969, two years after Israel took over the Palestinian Territories during the Six Day War, then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said that "The Palestinians have never existed." She added: "How can we return the occupied territories? There is no one to give them back to."
In 1993, Israel finally found a way, by signing the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. We remember the famous handshake between the PLO leader and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. But Rabin was assassinated, and with him, the hope of a two-state peace. The religious far-right in Israel bears a heavy responsibility for this tragic end.
Bezalel Yoel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionist Party, on his way to the U.S.
Security arrangements threatened
The Palestinian prime minister and the Jordanian government reacted angrily to Smotrich's statement. The Israeli ambassador in Amman was even summoned. The European Union, through head of diplomacy Josep Borrell, called on the Israeli government to disavow its minister.
As the minister spoke in Paris, Israeli and Palestinian officials were meeting in Amman with representatives from Egypt, Jordan and the U.S., in an attempt to salvage the fragile security agreement between the two sides. Already this year more than 100 people, mostly Palestinians, have been killed.
Bezalel Smotrich's statements show that some members of Israel's coalition government are not afraid of crisis, and even want it. This faction wants to continue the creeping takeover of the Palestinian Territories.
This extremist wing dreams of being able to expel Palestinians to other Arab countries — since, the extremists believe, Palestinians have no country of their own. This is a dangerous game, including for Israelis themselves.
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