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In Paris, Israel’s Smotrich says Palestinian people don't exist, calls them 'fictitious'

Addressing far-right French Jews at a conference, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich dismissed the existence of the Palestinian people, claiming he and his forefathers were the “real Palestinians.”
Bezalel Smotrich, Israeli far-right lawmaker and leader of the Religious Zionism party, speaks during a rally with supporters, Sderot, Israel, Oct. 26, 2022.

PARIS — Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich made more inflammatory comments, denying on Sunday the existence of the Palestinian people, as he addressed a group of French Jews at a private memorial service in Paris.

“There is no such thing as Palestinians because there is no such thing as a Palestinian people,” he said. A video of the speech posted online shows the audience applauding for Smotrich after the remark.

“Do you know who are the Palestinians? I’m Palestinian,” said Smotrich. The head of the ultranationalist Religious Zionism party argued that his grandmother, born in the northern Israeli town of Metula 100 years ago, and his grandfather, a 13th-generation Jerusalemite, were the “real Palestinians.”

He went on to lambast the existence of even a Palestinian culture. “Is there a Palestinian history or culture? No. There were Arabs in the Middle East who arrived in the land of Israel at the same time as the Jewish immigration and the beginning of Zionism. After 2,000 years of exile, the people of Israel were returning home, and there were Arabs around [us] who do not like it," he claimed.

"So what do they do? They invent a fictitious people in the land of Israel and claim fictitious rights in the land of Israel just to fight the Zionist movement,” Smotrich said at the event for a right-wing Likud activist.

Smotrich's narrative is falsely propagated by some far-right politicians in Israel who reject the idea of Palestinian existence, advocate for Israel to retain all the occupied territories and are against the establishment of a Palestinian state. 

“This is the historical truth. This is the biblical truth. The Arabs in the land of Israel need to hear this truth. This truth should be heard here in the Elysee Palace," he went on saying. 

The Israeli minister traveled to the French capital especially for the event, and left directly after. His trip to France was described as private. The event was heavily secured, with local far-right Jewish activists turning away Israeli journalists who tried to cover the speech. The spokesperson of the French Foreign Ministry has told Al-Monitor more than once that French officials will have no contact with Smotrich, essentially because of his remarks two weeks ago, calling to “wipe out” the Palestinian village of Huwara in the West Bank. Smotrich had walked back his call when visiting Washington last week, but did not express regret over the settlers’ rampage there.

Huwara has become the center of tensions in the region in recent months, especially after the murder of two Israeli brothers who passed through the village Feb. 26. Shortly after the killing, settlers stormed the village in revenge, burning down 35 houses, traumatizing residents and destroying other homes and vehicles. On Sunday evening, Israeli-American David Stern was seriously injured when driving through Huwara. Israeli security agencies now fear further escalation of tensions there.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh blasted on Monday what he called “inflammatory” remarks made Smotrich. Addressing the weekly Palestinian cabinet meeting, Shtayyeh said that the statements pf Smotrich “are consistent with the first Zionist sayings of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’,” adding that the statements were “conclusive evidence of the extremist, racist Zionist ideology...of the current Israeli government.”

Asked about Smotrich's comments on Monday, State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Petal said Washington takes issue with such language. "We of course would take issue with that kind of description or that kind of language being used," Petal said. 

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