Smotrich: 1.8 million Gazans should be encouraged to emigrate to change facts on the ground after war

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich holds a press conference in Jerusalem, December 26, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich holds a press conference in Jerusalem, December 26, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party, says that Palestinians should be encouraged to emigrate from the Gaza Strip to leave a different situation on the ground at the conclusion of the war.

“We need to encourage immigration from there. If there were 100,000-200,000 Arabs in the Strip and not two million, the whole conversation about the day after [the war] would be completely different,” Smotrich tells Army Radio. “They want to leave. They have been living in a ghetto for 75 years and are in need.”

Jerusalem has repeatedly denied claims that it is seeking to displace Gazans, an idea whose very mention elicits angry denunciations from Israel’s allies. It is unclear where Smotrich believes Gazans can emigrate to.

When asked repeatedly whether he believes that Israel must reestablish settlements inside the Gaza Strip, Smotrich says that Israel must control the area.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in Israel who doesn’t want to see Jewish settlements everywhere,” Smotrich claims.

“So you want the area resettled?” Smotrich is asked.

“I want us to solve the problem of Gaza,” the finance minister says.

Many of Israel’s leaders have repeatedly dismissed the idea of reestablishing settlements in Gaza, though the military campaign in the Strip to topple Hamas following the October 7 massacres — when terrorists rampaged through Israeli communities, killing 1,200 people and taking some 240 hostages — has raised hopes among some members of the settlement movement.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed a war cabinet meeting on postwar arrangements for the Gaza Strip, apparently due to pressure from his far-right coalition partners including Smotrich. Netanyahu has refused to hold any such meetings until now, reportedly because he does not want to reveal the expected role that Palestinian Authority officials will have in managing Gaza’s civil affairs after the war. The delay has frustrated the Biden administration.

Last night, Smotrich said Israel should discuss the revival of civilian settlements within the Gaza Strip as part of its planning for the enclave once Hamas rule is toppled, while denying that any of Gaza’s approximately 2 million residents were innocent and calling for Israel to “encourage voluntary emigration” from the territory.

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