‘No such thing’ as Palestinian people, top Israeli government minister says

FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, right, arrive to attend a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Feb. 23, 2023. The ultranationalist member of Israel's ruling coalition says there's no such thing as a Palestinian people. Finance Minister Smotrich's remark Sunday, March 19, came within hours of efforts to calm tensions between Israel and the Palestinians over the country's contentious plan to overhaul the judiciary. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP, File)

(Ronen Zvulun / Associated Press)

'No such thing' as Palestinian people, top Israeli government minister says

March 20, 2023

A firebrand Israeli minister claimed


there is no such thing as a Palestinian people as Israel’s new coalition government, its most right-wing ever, plowed ahead Monday with its plan to overhaul the judiciary.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus 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 parliament takes a monthlong holiday break next week. The move came a day after Israel and a Palestinian delegation, at a meeting mediated by Egyptian, Jordanian and U.S. officials, pledged to take steps to lower tensions roiling the region ahead of a sensitive holiday season that includes both Ramadan and Passover.

As the negotiators were issuing a joint communique from the meeting, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich delivered a speech in Paris saying


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 lectern draped with what appeared to be a map of Israel that included the occupied West Bank and parts of Jordan.

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.

A far-right leader of Israel’s settler movement who opposes Palestinian statehood, Smotrich


has a history of offensive statements toward Palestinians. Last month, he called for the Palestinian town of Hawara in the West Bank to be erased after radical Jewish settlers rampaged through the town in response to a shooting attack that killed two Israelis. Smotrich later apologized after an international uproar.

Biden calls Israel’s Netanyahu with judicial plan ‘concern’

His remarks on Palestinians were reminiscent of those made by late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that caused an uproar in 1969. She later told the New York Times


she meant there had never been a Palestinian nation. But critics say the comments continue to tarnish her legacy.

During Sundays talks in Egypt, a Palestinian gunman carried out another shooting attack in Hawara, seriously wounding an Israeli man.

The new violence, along with Smotrichs comments, illustrated the tough challenges that lie ahead in soothing tensions after a year of deadly violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and more than 40 Israelis or foreigners have been killed in Palestinian attacks during that time.

Sundays summit was held ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins this week. The Jewish festival of Passover is set to take place in April, coinciding with Ramadan.

Is the two-state solution for Israel, Palestine dead? Maybe. But what’s the alternative?

The upcoming period is sensitive because large numbers of Jewish and Muslim faithful


pour into Jerusalems Old City, the emotional heart of the conflict and a flashpoint for violence.

Large numbers of Jews are also expected to visit a key Jerusalem holy site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount an act the Palestinians view as a provocation.

Clashes at the site in 2021 helped trigger an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

The heightened tensions with the Palestinians coincide with mass demonstrations inside Israel against Netanyahus plans to overhaul the judicial system. Opponents of the measure have carried out disruptive protests, and the debate has embroiled the countrys military, where some reservists are refusing to show up for service. Netanyahu has rejected a compromise by Israel’s figurehead president.

In a rare move, a former Israeli leader urges the world to shun the current one

During a call with Netanyahu, President Biden appealed for caution over the judicial overhaul, the White House said, as a friend of Israel in the hopes that there can be a compromise formula found.

Biden underscored his belief that democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” the White House said, and added that “fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.

Netanyahu’s government says the plan is meant to correct an imbalance that has given the courts too much power over the legislative process. Critics say the overhaul would upend the country’s delicate system of checks and balances and push Israel toward authoritarianism. They also say Netanyahu could find an escape route from his corruption trial through the overhaul.

The protests, along with the rising violence with the Palestinians, have posed a major challenge for the new government. So far this year, 85 Palestinians have been killed, according to a tally by the Associated Press.

The number of Israelis killed during the same period rose to 15 on Monday after Israeli media reported that Or Eshkar, 33, had died. He was shot in the head at point-blank range by a Palestinian in Tel Aviv on March 9.

Israel says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and people not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.

Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast War. The Palestinians seek those territories for their future independent state.