Tue | May 30, 2023

Top Israeli minister: ‘No such thing’ as Palestinian people

Published:Tuesday | March 21, 2023 | 12:53 AM
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (right).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (right).

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP):

A firebrand Israeli minister claimed there’s “no such thing” as a Palestinian people as Israel’s new coalition government, its most hard-line ever, plowed ahead on Monday with a part of its plan to overhaul the judiciary.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition said it was pushing a key part of the overhaul – which would give the coalition control over who becomes a justice or a judge – before the parliament takes a monthlong holiday break next week.

The development came a day after an Israeli and Palestinian delegation at a meeting in Egypt, mediated by Egyptian, Jordanian and US officials, pledged to take steps to lower tensions roiling the region ahead of a sensitive holiday season.

As the negotiators were issuing a joint communiqué, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich delivered a speech in Paris, saying that the notion of a Palestinian people was artificial.

“There is no such thing as a Palestinian nation. There is no Palestinian history. There is no Palestinian language,” he said in France late Sunday. He spoke at a memorial event for a French-Israeli right-wing activist who denied the existence of a Palestinian nation and advocated annexation of the West Bank. The lectern was faced with what appeared to be an image showing the map of Israel that included the occupied West Bank, Gaza and Jordan.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry said that Smotrich’s appearance with the icon was a “reckless inflammatory act and a violation of international norms and the peace treaty” between the two countries.

It later summoned Israel’s ambassador over Smotrich’s remarks.

Ahmed Abu Zaid, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said the Israeli minister’s remarks “deny the facts of history and geography … (and) undermine the efforts aimed at achieving calm between the Palestinian and Israeli sides”.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Monday evening released a statement affirming that it is committed to the countries’ 1994 peace agreement.

“There has been no change in the position of the State of Israel, which recognises the territorial integrity of the Hashemite Kingdom,” the statement said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Smotrich’s remarks were “conclusive evidence of the extremist, racist Zionist ideology that governs the parties of the current Israeli government”.