ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Far-right ministers call to ‘resettle’ Gaza’s Palestinians, build settlements in Strip

Arab lawmaker compares statements by party leaders Smotrich and Ben Gvir to Nazi calls for ‘Lebensraum’; Liberman says Israel must reoccupy southern Lebanon to ensure security

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 1, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the Otzma Yehudit party, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 1, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s two senior far-right partners endorsed the rebuilding of settlements in the Gaza Strip and the encouraging of “voluntary emigration” of Palestinians on Monday, while hawkish opposition MK Avigdor Liberman called for Israel to reoccupy southern Lebanon.

Speaking during their parties’ respective faction meetings in the Knesset, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich presented the migration of Palestinian civilians as a solution to the long-running conflict and as a prerequisite for securing the stability necessary to allow residents of southern Israel to return to their homes.

The war presents an “opportunity to concentrate on encouraging the migration of the residents of Gaza,” Ben Gvir told reporters and members of his far-right Otzma Yehudit party, calling such a policy “a correct, just, moral and humane solution.”

“We cannot withdraw from any territory we are in in the Gaza Strip. Not only do I not rule out Jewish settlement there, I believe it is also an important thing,” he said.

The “correct solution” to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “to encourage the voluntary migration of Gaza’s residents to countries that will agree to take in the refugees,” Smotrich told members of his Religious Zionism party, predicting that “Israel will permanently control the territory of the Gaza Strip,” including through the establishment of settlements.

He also repeated his previous statement that Jerusalem could not allow Gaza to remain a “hothouse of 2 million people who want destroy the State of Israel” and asserted that “as long as I am the finance minister, not one shekel will go to the Nazi terrorists in Gaza.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset plenum session, Jerusalem, December 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Veteran Arab Israeli lawmaker MK Ahmad Tibi (Hadash-Ta’al) condemned Smotrich and Ben Gvir, comparing their statements to Nazi calls for “Lebensraum,” or living space, and declaring that such rhetoric was “inciting genocide.”

“A day will come and these two senior ministers in the Israeli government will stand before an international tribunal for war crimes,” Tibi said.

A number of lawmakers, including members of the cabinet, have pushed for the “resettlement” of Palestinians from Gaza, an idea that has been roundly rejected by Netanyahu and the international community.

The idea of population transfer, once considered a fringe view held by members of the ultranationalist Kahane movement, was given renewed prominence in mainstream Israeli political discourse this November when MKs Danny Danon (Likud) and Ram Ben-Barak (Yesh Atid) published an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal, calling for “countries around the world to accept limited numbers of Gazan families who have expressed a desire to relocate.”

Their proposal was welcomed by Ben Gvir and Smotrich, the latter of whom called the initiative “the right humanitarian solution for the residents of Gaza.”

Writing in The Jerusalem Post several days later, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel of Likud mulled the possibility of promoting “the voluntary resettlement of Palestinians in Gaza, for humanitarian reasons, outside of the Strip.”

Separately on Monday, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman called for Israel to reoccupy southern Lebanon, saying the country must “pay in territory” for damage caused by Hezbollah strikes on Israel’s northern towns.

The former defense minister, a member of the opposition, said Israel’s military must “close off” a swath of southern Lebanon and push the terror group north of the Litani River, even if it means occupying the area for 50 years.

This picture taken on December 31, 2023 from southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing across the border in northern Israel after the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group launched a barrage of rockets amid ongoing cross-border tensions. (Hasan FNEICH/AFP)

“We will not annex anything, and we will not build settlements, but we will release the territory only when there is a government in Beirut that knows how to exercise its sovereignty,” he said.

“Everything between the Litani and Israel must be under the control of the IDF,” added Liberman, likening it to the post-World War II military occupation of Germany. “If Lebanon won’t pay in territory, we haven’t done anything,” he said.

Israel maintained a military occupation of southern Lebanon to keep terror groups away from the border from 1982 until a chaotic retreat in 2000.

Liberman also took a swing at Netanyahu’s handling of the war against Hamas, saying his government “does not know how to end the war in the south – or how to act in the north.”

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