France and Germany added their voices Wednesday to the growing international condemnation of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir over their call for the “voluntary emigration” of Palestinians out of Gaza.
Both Smotrich and Ben Gvir presented the idea of encouraging Palestinians from Gaza to move abroad during faction meetings in the Knesset earlier this week, suggesting that the idea would be the solution to the long-running conflict as well as a prerequisite for securing the stability necessary to allow residents of southern Israel to return to their homes.
Ben Gvir told reporters and party members at his Otzma Yehudit faction meeting that the war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza presents an “opportunity to concentrate on encouraging the migration of the residents of Gaza.”
The policy would be “a correct, just, moral and humane solution,” he said.
For his part, Smotrich said that the “correct solution” to the war would be to “encourage the voluntary migration of Gaza’s residents to countries that will agree to take in the refugees.”
Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, reported Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition is conducting secret contacts for accepting thousands of immigrants from Gaza with Congo, in addition to other nations. The report was denied later in the day by a senior diplomatic official.
Urging the Israeli government to “refrain from such provocative statements,” the French foreign ministry warned that “the forced transfer of populations constitutes a serious violation of international law within the meaning of the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute.”
The ministry added that “it is not up to the Israeli government to decide where the Palestinians should live on their lands. The future of the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants will be part of a unified Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel.”
Prior to the foreign ministry’s statement, French President Emmanuel Macron also warned Israel against contemplating a forced displacement of Gaza residents.
In a phone call with war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday, Macron “argued that statements relating to the forced displacement of Gazans were unacceptable and contradicted the two-state solution which constitutes the only viable solution for a return to peace and security for all,” the French president’s office said in a readout of the call.
German foreign ministry spokesman Sebastian Fischer also condemned the statements made by the Israeli lawmakers, saying on Wednesday that Berlin, a close ally of Israel, rejects the comments by Smotrich and Ben Gvir “in the strongest terms” and that “they are neither useful nor helpful.”
He underlined the position of Germany and its Group of Seven allies that “there must be no expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza, there must be no territorial reduction of the Gaza Strip.”
He added that “from our point of view, a two-state solution remains the only sustainable model for Israelis and Palestinians to live together peacefully.”
Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza was triggered by the deadly October 7 massacres in Israel, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst into the country from across the Gaza border and launched brutal assaults on more than 20 southern communities.
Some 1,200 people were slaughtered — mostly civilians — amid scenes of horrific brutality, and around 240 others were seized and dragged to Gaza as hostages.
Israel in response vowed to eliminate Hamas and end the terror group’s 16-year rule over the Gaza Strip, and launched an aerial campaign and subsequent ground offensive.
The United Nations has said that as a result of the intensive war, which has been raging for close to 100 days, around 85 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced.
The United States issued its own condemnation Tuesday of Smotrich and Ben Gvir, who head the Religious Zionism party and Otzma Yehudit party, respectively.
In a relatively rare, unprompted statement, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller called their comments “inflammatory and irresponsible.”
“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 said.
The US has “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,” he added.
In response, both Smotrich and Ben Gvir took to X, formerly Twitter, to double down on their statements.
On Tuesday night, Ben Gvir rallied against Miller’s comments, saying that “with all due respect, we are not another star on the American flag.”
“The United States is our best friend, but first of all, we will do what is best for the State of Israel. The emigration of hundreds of thousands of people from Gaza will allow the residents of the border communities to return home and live in safety,” he added.
On Wednesday, Smotrich echoed his political ally’s sentiments.
“More than 70% of the Israeli public supports a humanitarian solution of encouraging the voluntary immigration of Arabs from Gaza and their absorption in other countries,” he wrote, without saying where the figure he cited came from.
“A small country like ours cannot afford a reality where four minutes away from our communities there is a hotbed of hatred and terrorism,” he added.
Sam Sokol and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.