Jordan’s parliament on Wednesday recommended expelling Israel’s ambassador, while displaying a map at the center of its chamber featuring Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — all under the colors of the Jordanian and Palestinian flags.
The vote and the map came in response to a speech by Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich over the weekend in which he claimed the Palestinian people are an “invention” while standing by a map of “Greater Israel” that included the territory of the Hashemite Kingdom, in accordance with the hardline aspirations of some fringe extremists.
The expulsion of Israeli Ambassador Eitan Surkis would require approval from the Jordanian government, which is an unlikely scenario. Surkis was summoned by Amman’s foreign ministry on Monday night in protest of Smotrich’s speech.
Symbolic votes to expel Israel’s envoy are common during times of heightened tensions between Jerusalem and Amman. In May 2021, Jordanian lawmakers unanimously called for the government to expel Israel’s envoy amid Operation Guardian of the Walls, an 11-day war between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
Speaking in Paris at a private memorial service on Sunday for a prominent right-wing Likud activist, Smotrich claimed the Palestinian people are “an invention” from the last century and that people like himself and his grandparents were the “real Palestinians.”
Smotrich said there was “no such thing as Palestinians because there’s no such thing as the Palestinian people,” a comment that was met with applause and cheers from attendees in footage posted online.
“The Palestinian people is an invention.”
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich claimed there’s “no such thing” as the Palestinian people during a conference in Paris, France pic.twitter.com/81EWqq80IH
— TRT World (@trtworld) March 20, 2023
“Do you know who are the Palestinians?” asked the head of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism party and Israel’s finance minister. “I’m Palestinian,” he said, also mentioning his grandmother who was born in the northern Israeli town of Metulla 100 years ago, and his grandfather, a 13th-generation Jerusalemite, as the “real Palestinians.”
“This truth needs to be heard in the White House in Washington. The whole world needs to hear this truth because it is the truth — and the truth will win,” Smotrich continued.
The comments drew a harsh backlash from Jordan’s Foreign Ministry, which called them “reckless incitement and a violation of international norms and the Jordanian Peace Treaty.”
In the face of Jordanian anger over the speech, Israel’s Foreign Ministry sought o tamp down the backlash. “Israel is committed to the 1994 peace agreement with Jordan. There has been no change in the position of the State of Israel, which recognizes the territorial integrity of the Hashemite Kingdom,” the ministry tweeted in both Hebrew and English. It did not mention Smotrich’s remarks about Palestinians.
An Israeli diplomat told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that Jerusalem “understands Jordanian sensitivities,” adding that they were “working to send conciliatory messages.”
“Israel’s connection with Jordan is crucial for regional calm and stability,” the official said. “They have gotten their message across,” the official said, stressing that the Foreign Ministry was working “based on the government decision to strengthen ties with Jordan because they are important.”
The United States joined several other countries on Tuesday in condemning the comments.
Smotrich has a history of making inflammatory statements against Palestinians, Arab citizens of Israel, non-Orthodox Jews, and the LGBTQ community.
Earlier this month, the minister stirred international outrage with a call to “wipe out” a Palestinian town in the West Bank following a deadly Palestinian terror attack that killed two Israeli brothers. He later walked back the comment and apologized.
His comments Sunday came hours after Israeli and PA delegations met for a relatively rare albeit low-stakes regional summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where they recommitted to de-escalating tensions, days before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. They also agreed to combat incitement to violence.
Lazar Berman and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.