Far-right Israeli ministers’ remarks on future of Gaza draw rebuke from State Department

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Two Israeli far-right ministers drew rebuke from the U.S. State Department over their remarks regarding the future of Gaza after the war against Hamas comes to an end, in which the officials discussed the voluntary resettling of Palestinians outside the Gaza Strip.

“The United States rejects recent statements from Israeli Ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir advocating for the resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza. This rhetoric is inflammatory and irresponsible,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Tuesday. “We have been told repeatedly and consistently by the Government of Israel, including by the Prime Minister, that such statements do not reflect the policy of the Israeli government. They should stop immediately.”

Smotrich, the current Israeli finance minister, and Ben Gvir, the national security minister, have recently called for Israel to maintain control of the Gaza Strip after the war and for the voluntary – not forcible – resettlement of a large portion of the Palestinian population currently living there.

“We have been clear, consistent, and unequivocal that Gaza is Palestinian land and will remain Palestinian land, with Hamas no longer in control of its future and with no terror groups able to threaten Israel,” Miller’s statement continued. “That is the future we seek, in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, the surrounding region, and the world.” 

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Smotrich, one of the senior members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition, on Sunday had called on Palestinians to leave Gaza, allowing Israelis to come in and “make the desert bloom.” 

“Let’s think out of the box,” Smotrich said on Sunday. “If in Gaza there will be 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs and not 2 million, the entire conversation on ‘the day after’ will look different.” 

Speaking to members of his Religious Zionism party on Monday, Smotrich doubled down, deeming the “correct solution” to the Israel-Hamas war is “to encourage the voluntary migration of Gaza’s residents to countries that will agree to take in the refugees,” the Times of Israel reported. 

“Israel will permanently control the territory of the Gaza Strip,” Smotrich said, adding that Jerusalem cannot allow Gaza to remain a “hothouse of 2 million people who want destroy the State of Israel.” 

“As long as I am the finance minister, not one shekel will go to the Nazi terrorists in Gaza,” he said.

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Even amid the backlash from the United States, Smotrich argued Wednesday that 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza “wake up every morning with a desire to destroy the State of Israel and to slaughter, rape and murder Jews,” according to The Jerusalem Post. 

In addressing members of his own far-right Otzma Yehudit Party on Monday, Netanyahu’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said the Israel-Hamas war presents an “opportunity to concentrate on encouraging the migration of the residents of Gaza.” 

Billing such an initiative “a correct, just, moral and humane solution,” Gvir added, “We cannot withdraw from any territory we are in in the Gaza Strip. Not only do I not rule out Jewish settlement there, I believe it is also an important thing,” according to the Times of Israel. 

Condemning Smotrich and Ben Gvir’s comments on a potential Palestinian resettlement, veteran Arab Israeli lawmaker MK Ahmad Tibi equated the ministers’ statements to Nazi calls for “Lebensraum,” or living space, and claimed that such rhetoric was “inciting genocide.”

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“A day will come and these two senior ministers in the Israeli government will stand before an international tribunal for war crimes,” Tibi said, according to the Times of Israel.

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