Jordan summoned the Israeli envoy in protest of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s speech at a conference in Paris over the weekend, during which he claimed the Palestinian people are an “invention” while standing behind a map of “Greater Israel” that includes modern-day Jordan.
Neither side issued a statement on the summoning of Ambassador Eitan Surkis Monday night, but an official familiar with the matter confirmed the escalation of the diplomatic spat to The Times of Israel.
The move came hours after the Foreign Ministry sought to tamp down the backlash to by Smotrich’s Sunday speech. “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 the Palestinians.
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.
He appeared to downplay Smotrich’s conduct, tweeting that he called Safadi “after the storm caused by the publishing of a picture of Israel’s Minister of Finance next to a map of the Land of Israel which included the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.”
“I assured him of the commitment the Government of Israel has to uphold the peace treaty between our two countries which has strengthened the stability and the security of our region for nearly 30 years,” Hanegbi tweeted.
“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
Hours earlier, Jordan’s foreign ministry lambasted Smotrich’s Paris appearance as “reckless incitement and a violation of international norms and the Jordanian Peace Treaty.”
“The racist and extremist inciting statements made by the extremist Israeli minister against the brotherly Palestinian people, their right to exist, and their historical right to an independent and sovereign state on Palestinian national soil,” Amman said, calling on the Israeli government to condemn Smotrich’s statements. It warned that Jordan “will take all necessary political and legal measures to address such extremist actions and statements.”
Smotrich’s conduct “represents a dangerous escalation that threatens security and stability,” Jordan’s foreign ministry said.
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.
After the storm caused by the publishing of a picture of Israel's Minister of Finance next to a map of the Land of Israel which included the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, I spoke this evening with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi. >>
— Tzachi Hanegbi • צחי הנגבי (@Tzachi_Hanegbi) 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.”
Smotrich spoke from a podium that featured a map of “Greater Israel,” which included the territory of modern-day Jordan, in accordance with hardline aspirations by some early Zionist groups.
“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.
State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel was asked about the minister’s remarks during a Monday press briefing. “We of course would take issue with that kind of description, or that kind of language being used,” he responded.
Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called called on the Israeli government to disavow Smotrich’s remarks.
“I have to deplore these unacceptable comment by Minister Smotrich. It is wrong, it is disrespectful, it is dangerous, it is counter-productive to say this kind of things in a situation which is already tense,” he added.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Smotrich’s remarks were “completely unhelpful.”
“Obviously, there very clearly and distinctly is a Palestinian people. Their rights are upheld by the United Nations. There are Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that refer to the Palestinians and we continue to support their rights and to push for two-state solution that will result in two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” the Guterres spokesman said.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said earlier Monday that Smotrich’s remarks are further evidence of what he called the “racist ideology” governing Israel.
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 Prime Minister Benjamin 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.
Cairo called Smotrich’s remarks racist and said they “deny the facts of history and geography, while fueling feelings of anger among Palestinian people and other peoples of the free world.”
Also joining the chorus of condemnations Monday was Hadash-Ta’al MK Ahmad Tibi. “Sank yo, you can save those stories to your grendmeizer” he tweeted, in a swipe at Smotrich’s English, given the finance minister’s speech last week in Washington to the Israel Bonds conference that was widely mocked. The finance minister chose to speak in Hebrew on Sunday in Paris and used a translator.
Lazar Berman contributed to this report