Washington on Friday fumed at comments made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video released online in which he accused the Palestinians of advocating ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population in the West Bank.
US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters the administration is “engaging in direct conversations with the Israeli government” about the video.
“We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful,” Trudeau said.
She said Israel expansion of settlements raises “real questions about Israel’s long-term intentions in the West Bank.”
Netanyahu on Friday decried what he said was the world’s silence on the issue.
Speaking in English in a video message posted on his Facebook page, Netanyahu asked whether people in other parts of the world would accept such demands in their own countries.
It’s “outrageous that the world doesn’t find it outrageous,” Netanyahu said, urging viewers to ask themselves whether they would accept “a territory without Jews, without Hispanics, without blacks” in their nation.
“Since when is bigotry a foundation for peace?” he asked.
“At this moment, Jewish schoolchildren in Judea [and] Samaria are playing in sandboxes with their friends,” he said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical Hebrew name. “Does their presence make peace impossible? I don’t think so.”
He said he envisioned a Middle East “where young Arabs and young Jews learn together, work together, live together side by side in peace.”
Netanyahu also faced criticism over his remarks by Israeli opposition lawmakers, who rebuked the prime minister for rejecting the notion that West Bank settlements were “an obstacle to peace.”
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni on Saturday accused Netanyahu of “trying to make political gains while creating diplomatic damage.”
She said the video had caused the US position to change from accepting settlement blocs to rejecting the entire West Bank enterprise.
“After Netanyahu’s video, the US is saying that all the settlements, including the blocs, are an obstacle, whereas in the past they were recognized,” she said in remarks relayed by a spokesman.
Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint (Arab) List, accused Netanyahu of creating “an imaginary reality” and rejected the comparison between Israeli Arabs and Jewish West Bank settlers, who he said implement a policy of “ethnic cleansing.”
“Netanyahu doesn’t care that it is the settlements that were established precisely in order to cruelly expel Palestinian populaces from the West Bank to limited territories around the major cities,” he wrote on Facebook.
Israel began building settlements in the West Bank after it captured the territory, previously controlled by Jordan, in the 1967 Six Day War. Today, over 250,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements and outposts.
The settlements are seen as an impediment by proponents of the two-state solution, which would see a Palestinian state alongside Israel in most of the West Bank and all of Gaza. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, dismantling all its settlements there, while some of the West Bank settlements would potentially remain under Israel control as part of a territorial exchange under a final peace agreement.
Netanyahu’s video garnered 45,000 views and more than 4,300 “likes” within the first three hours of publication. It is the latest in a series of viral attempts in which the prime minister talks directly to the camera, speaking, usually in English, about a current affairs issue. The prime minister is known for his fluent, almost unaccented English, which he perfected during his years of study in the US.
In the first such video, which came after June’s deadly nightclub shooting in Orlando, Netanyahu called on the international community to stand together with the LGBT community, saying that the attack was not an isolated incident and slamming homophobic practices carried out by Islamic terrorist groups and countries across the Middle East.
Since then, the prime minister has made videos about a terrorist attack in the West Bank town of Kiryat Arba in which 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel was stabbed to death, Jerusalem’s gay pride rally, steps for peace for Abbas, a new government program to fund development in the Arab community, and a Palestinian father telling Israeli soldiers to shoot his own son. Last month, he released a video in which he claimed Israel cares more about the Palestinian people than their own leaders.
The videos, some of which have also been released in Hebrew, have received over 40 million views in total.