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MKs split along party lines on PM’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ video

Likud ministers defend Netanyahu for claiming Palestinians want a Jew-free West Bank, while Livni accuses him of harming US ties

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office  in Jerusalem on September 11, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 11, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Falling in line with their political allegiances, Knesset members rushed Sunday rushed to either defend or condemn a video released Friday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he claimed Palestinians wanted to “ethnically cleanse” Jews from the West Bank.

The video drew quick rebuke from the United States, who said the terminology used by the prime minister was “inappropriate and unhelpful.”

Netanyahu, speaking in English in a video message posted on his Facebook page, asked whether people in other parts of the world would accept such demands for the removal of a specific ethnic group in their own countries.

It’s “outrageous that the world doesn’t find it outrageous,” Netanyahu said, urging viewers to ask themselves whether they would accept “a territory without Jews, without Hispanics, without blacks” in their nation. “Since when is bigotry a foundation for peace?” he asked.

I'm sure many of you have heard the claim that Jewish communities in Judea Samaria, the West Bank, are an obstacle to peace.I've always been perplexed by this notion.Because no one would seriously claim that the nearly two million Arabs living inside Israel – that they're an obstacle to peace. That's because they aren't. On the contrary.Israel's diversity shows its openness and readiness for peace. Yet the Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one pre-condition: No Jews.There's a phrase for that: It's called ethnic cleansing.And this demand is outrageous.It's even more outrageous that the world doesn't find this outrageous. Some otherwise enlightened countries even promote this outrage.Ask yourself this: Would you accept ethnic cleansing in your state? A territory without Jews, without Hispanics, without blacks?Since when is bigotry a foundation for peace?At this moment, Jewish schoolchildren in Judea Samaria are playing in sandboxes with their friends.Does their presence make peace impossible?I don’t think so.I think what makes peace impossible is intolerance of others. Societies that respect all people are the ones that pursue peace. Societies that demand ethnic cleansing don't pursue peace.I envision a Middle East where young Arabs and young Jews learn together, work together, live together side by side in peace.Our region needs more tolerance, not less.So the next time you hear someone say Jews can't live somewhere, let alone in their ancestral homeland, take a moment to think of the implications.Ethnic cleansing for peace is absurd.It's about time somebody said it.I just did.

Posted by ‎Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו‎ on Friday, September 9, 2016

Politicians from the government coalition supported Netanyahu’s remarks, saying he “spoke the truth,” while opposition members accused him of distorting reality and further driving a wedge between Israel and the United States.

Likud ministers Tzachi Hanegbi and Yuval Steinitz sprang to Netanyahu’s defense.

“When you speak the truth, you can assume that there are those whom the truth will outrage,” Hanegbi told Army Radio.

“The Palestinians have held the belief for many years that any future agreement with the State of Israel will have the condition that no Jews will be allowed to live in Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical designation.

“And what is that if not ethnic cleansing?” Hanegbi added.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during a Knesset plenum session on September 7, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during a Knesset plenum session on September 7, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In his defense of Netanyahu, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas duplicitous for making very different statements in English and in Arabic.

“In English [Abbas] wants to clear out the settlements because they’re illegal and a barrier for peace, but in Arabic he says he wants to cleanse Palestine of Jews,” Steinitz said ahead of this week’s cabinet meeting.

“And he doesn’t just talk about settlements, he also talks about cleansing Tel Aviv, Kfar Saba, Haifa and Beersheba,” he added.

Meanwhile, Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said Netanyahu was just “playing with videos” but was not going to effect any real change.

“The settlements are on the docket in the [International] Criminal Court in The Hague, and the prime minister is playing with videos and speaking in amazing English, but he’s not going to convince [anyone], and is instead going to cause damage,” Livni told Army Radio on Sunday morning.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni at the Knesset, on June 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni at the Knesset, on June 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint (Arab) List, accused Netanyahu of creating “an imaginary reality” and rejected the comparison between Arab Israeli Arabs and Jewish West Bank settlers, who he said were the ones implementing a policy of “ethnic cleansing.”

“Netanyahu doesn’t care that it is the settlements that were established precisely in order to cruelly expel Palestinian populaces from the West Bank to limited territories around the major cities,” he wrote on Facebook on Saturday night.

This was not the first time Netanyahu has claimed Palestinians were trying to carry out ethnic cleansing. Following statements made by the United Nations’ envoy to the Middle East last month, denouncing the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Prime Minister’s Office released a written statement making a similar claim.

“The claim that Jewish construction in Jerusalem is illegal is as absurd as the claim that American construction in Washington or French construction in Paris is illegal. The Palestinian demand that a future Palestinian state be ethnically cleansed of Jews is outrageous and the UN must condemn it instead of adopting it,” Netanyahu’s office said.

In an interview on Canadian television in 2014, the prime minister made a similar claim, yet neither of those incidents prompted US condemnation.

Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to the United States later this month for the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York. As of now, no meeting has been scheduled between the prime minister and US President Barack Obama.

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