20232003 Bezalel Smotrich
Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich Image Credit: AFP

Ramallah: The Palestinian Authority on Monday called an Israeli minister’s remarks denying the existence of the Palestinian people “conclusive evidence” of the Israeli government’s “racist ideology”.

Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, is part of veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s government that took office in December.

Smotrich, who has a history of incendiary remarks, faced international rebuke earlier this month after calling for a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank to be “wiped out”.

“There are no Palestinians, because there isn’t a 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 on social media.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said ahead of a cabinet meeting on Monday the “inflammatory statements” made by Smotrich “are consistent with the first Zionist sayings of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’”.

Smotrich’s comments came as Israeli and Palestinian representatives met in the Red Sea resort of Sharm Al Shiekh along with Egyptian, Jordanian and US officials for “extensive discussions on ways to de-escalate tensions between the Palestinians and Israelis,” according to a joint statement.

The Jordanian foreign ministry on Monday condemned the minister’s remarks, calling them “extremist racism” and Smotrich himself an “extremist”.

It warned in a statement that his “use of a map... that encompasses the border of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” may be in violation of the 1994 peace accord.

Huwara ‘wiped out’

Smotrich had called in early March for the Palestinian town of Huwara to be “wiped out” after two Israelis were shot dead there by an alleged Hamas militant.

After the shooting, hundreds of rampaging Israeli settlers torched Palestinian homes and cars in the West Bank town, and a Palestinian man was killed in the nearby village of Zaatara.

Speaking last month, the United Nations’ Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland called for the “cycle of violence” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be “stopped immediately”.

Violence has intensified in the West Bank in recent months.

Since the start 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 have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.

On Sunday, while talks were underway in Egypt, an Israeli was seriously wounded in a shooting attack in Huwara.