US joins condemnations of Smotrich’s ‘concerning and dangerous’ Paris speech

France, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar also denounce finance minister for saying there’s ‘no such thing as Palestinians’ in front of ‘Greater Israel’ map that includes Jordan

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotirch at a press conference in Jerusalem on February 28, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotirch at a press conference in Jerusalem on February 28, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The United States on Tuesday joined denunciations of far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for denying the existence of Palestinians, calling his remarks “dangerous,” as France and others also condemned the comments.

“We found those comments to not only be inaccurate but also deeply concerning and dangerous,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters, also calling Bezalel Smotrich’s remarks Sunday in Paris “offensive.”

Standing behind a map of “Greater Israel” that included modern-day Jordan, Smotrich said the Palestinian people were “an invention” from the last century, and that there was “no such thing as Palestinians because there’s no such thing as the Palestinian people.”

He was speaking over the weekend at a memorial event for a Zionist activist, during a private trip to France that did not include any meetings with government officials.

“The Palestinians have a rich history and culture and the United States values our partnership with the Palestinian people,” Patel said.

He also denounced the map on the podium where Smotrich spoke as “inaccurate.”

Asked about how the remarks would affect US relations with ally Israel, Patel said that Smotrich was “not the only individual in the Israeli government.”

US State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel speaks during the daily press briefing on March 21, 2023, in Washington. (YouTube screenhsot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

France earlier Tuesday called Smotrich’s claim about the Palestinians “infuriating and irresponsible.”

“We call on those who were called to senior positions in the Israeli government to show the appropriate respect, to treat others with respect, and to avoid any action or statement that contributes to an escalation in tensions,” said French foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre in response to a question.

The remarks were also denounced Tuesday by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

The Saudi statement said Smotrich’s comments were “racist, false and promote a discourse of hate and violence and harm efforts to achieve peace.”

The Emirati foreign ministry condemned both the map and the remarks, emphasizing the need “to confront discourse of hate and violence.”

Qatar’s foreign ministry similarly slammed both the “denial of the existence of the Palestinian people” and Smotrich’s “use of a map of Israel that includes the borders of Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territories.”

According to Hebrew media reports, a visiting delegation of senior Emirati officials led by Khaldoon Al Mubarak, who is considered close with UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was expected to protest Smotrich’s address in a meeting with President Isaac Herzog in Israel on Tuesday. The officials are also due to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks in Paris on March 19, 2023 (Ynet screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The denunciations came a day after Jordan summoned Israel’s envoy in protest of Smotrich’s speech and the “Greater Israel” map, after the Foreign Ministry sought to tamp down the backlash to his comments by stressing Jerusalem’s commitment to the 1994 peace treaty with Amman and respect for the kingdom’s territorial sovereignty.

Later Tuesday night, National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi phoned Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi to offer a similar assurance regarding Israel’s commitment to its peace with Jordan.

Hours earlier, Jordan’s foreign ministry had lambasted Smotrich’s Paris appearance as “reckless incitement and a violation of international norms and the Jordanian Peace Treaty.”

The United States, European Union and United Nations also took Smotrich to task for the comments, as did Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who charged that the remarks were further evidence of what he called the “racist ideology” governing Israel.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh greets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 14, 2022. (Flash90)

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 — a senior figure in Netanyahu’s hardline coalition — 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.

A spokesman for Egypt’s foreign ministry said Monday that Smotrich’s “inflammatory and unacceptable” comments undermined the regional effort at Sharm el-Sheikh to restore calm.

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