UK minister blasts 'inflammatory remarks'

UN, EU, Arab states heap condemnation on far-right calls for Gazan emigration

UN human rights chief says he’s ‘very disturbed’ over repeated comments by Ben Gvir, Smotrich; Qatar, Saudi Arabia slam idea as violation of international law

Palestinians walk after fleeing from their homes in Gaza City to the southern part of Gaza, November 11, 2023. (Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
File: Palestinians walk on road after fleeing from their homes in Gaza City to the southern part of Gaza, November 11, 2023. (Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

International condemnation continued to pour in Thursday for far-right ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who called for encouraging the emigration of Gaza’s residents and for the reestablishment of Israeli settlements in the Strip once the Israel-Hamas war is over.

The remarks have already been slammed by Israel’s closest Western allies as a violation of international law, and even among ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, who described such a policy as unrealistic and detrimental to Israel’s international standing.

UN human rights chief Volker Turk said on Thursday he was “very disturbed by high-level Israeli officials’ statements on plans to transfer civilians from Gaza to third countries,” on X, formerly Twitter.

He added that “international law prohibits forcible transfer of protected persons within or deportation from occupied territory.”

Saudi Arabia also said it rejects “extremist remarks” by the two ministers, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The Kingdom stresses the importance of the concerted efforts of the international community to activate international accounting mechanisms towards the persistence of the Israeli occupation government, through its statements and actions, in violating the rules of international legitimacy and international humanitarian law,” it said.

Qatar, which acts as a crucial mediator between Israel and Hamas, also condemned in the “strongest terms” Ben Gvir and Smotrich’s statements.

“It also considers these statements an extension of the reoccupation of the occupation’s approach in violating the rights of the brotherly Palestinian people, a contempt for international laws and agreements, and its toxic attempts to block the way to peace opportunities, especially the two-state solution.”

Tariq Ahmad, the UK minister for the Middle East region, condemned the “inflammatory remarks” in a post on X Wednesday.

“Gaza is occupied Palestinian Territory and will be part of the future Palestinian state. No Palestinian should be threatened with forcible displacement or relocation,” he wrote.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also condemned Smotrich and Ben Gvir.

“Forced displacements are strictly prohibited as a grave violation of IHL & words matter,” he wrote on X, referring to international humanitarian law.

Both Smotrich and Ben Gvir presented the idea of encouraging Palestinians from Gaza to move abroad during faction meetings in the Knesset earlier this week, suggesting that the idea would be the solution to the long-running conflict as well as a prerequisite for securing the stability necessary to allow residents of southern Israel to return to their homes.

Ben Gvir told reporters and party members at his Otzma Yehudit faction meeting that the war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza presents an “opportunity to concentrate on encouraging the migration of the residents of Gaza.”

The policy would be “a correct, just, moral and humane solution,” he said.

Ben Gvir hit back at Washington shortly after it aired its criticism Tuesday, tweeting that “the emigration of hundreds of thousands from Gaza will allow the residents of the [Gaza] envelope to return home and live in security and will protect the IDF soldiers.”

“I really admire the United States of America but with all due respect, we are not another star in the American flag,” he averred.

For his part, Smotrich said that the “correct solution” to the war would be to “encourage the voluntary migration of Gaza’s residents to countries that will agree to take in the refugees.”

He also doubled down on the position Wednesday, claiming that “more than 70 percent of the Israeli public today supports” such “a humanitarian solution,” but did not provide a source for this statistic.

A resettlement policy is necessary, Smotrich said, because “a small country like ours cannot afford a reality where four minutes away from our communities there is a hotbed of hatred and terrorism, where two million people wake up every morning with aspiration for the destruction of the State of Israel and with a desire to slaughter and rape and murder Jews wherever they are.”

Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, reported Wednesday that Netanyahu’s coalition is conducting secret contacts on accepting thousands of immigrants from Gaza with Congo, in addition to other nations. The report was denied later in the day by a senior diplomatic official.

For months, Netanyahu has bucked US requests to begin planning for who will govern the Gaza Strip after the war, ostensibly recognizing that his far-right coalition partners would reject proposals that do not include Israel’s reoccupation and resettlement of Gaza — which the security establishment and Washington oppose. A cabinet meeting on the matter was planned for Thursday.

Israel launched its ground assault on Gaza following the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas in which thousands of terrorists breached the border, killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking another 240 hostages.

Israel has vowed to bring the hostages home and destroy Hamas’s forces in the Strip. It has urged civilians to move to southern Gaza, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Egypt, which controls Gaza’s southern border has refused to open it to allow Palestinians to leave.

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