GCC foreign ministers condemn Israeli minister in letter to Blinken

Israeli minister Bezalel Smotrich called for West Bank town of Hawara to be 'wiped out'

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at a news conference in Jerusalem. Reuters
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Foreign ministers from the Gulf Co-operation Council, in a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have condemned comments by Israeli Finance Minister Bezlalel Smotrich.

The letter, released on Sunday, follows provocative statements by Mr Smotrich, who has been widely condemned for claiming there is no such thing as Palestinian people and saying a Palestinian town should be “wiped out.”

In the letter, the foreign ministers call on Mr Blinken to “respond to all measures and statements that target the Palestinian people.”

It condemns Mr Smotrich for the statements and urges the American administration “to play its role in reaching a just, comprehensive and lasting solution to the conflict based on the principles of international law.”

The UAE, US and several other countries have already criticised the comments by Mr Smotrich, who stoked tensions with neighbouring Jordan after displaying a flag of Israel with expanded borders incorporating both Jordan and the occupied West Bank.

It comes as Israel faces further scrutiny after repealing a ban on West Bank settlements, spearheaded by its most right-wing government in history.

The GCC statement said Palestine and its people remained the “first issue of Arabs and Muslims,” and called for the guarantee of “all legitimate rights of the brotherly Palestinian people.”

The finance minister is a key member of the far-right coalition which propelled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back to power following the November elections.

The PM later chastised Mr Smotrich for his comments on the West Bank town of Hawara, which the US said amounted to inciting violence.

“I think that Hawara needs to be erased,” Mr Smotrich said in early March, after settlers attacked the Palestinian town.

“I think that the state of Israel needs to do it, but God forbid not individual people.”

West Bank settlers set homes and businesses ablaze after two Israeli brothers were killed while passing through the area. Israel later sent two ringleaders into administrative detention, saying the ferocity and scope of the attack caught them by surprise.

The GCC also condemned escalating Israeli settlements and violence, “including the crimes committed recently in the city and camp of Jenin.”

Jenin and Nablus have seen almost constant Israeli army raids for the past year.

The army claims militant groups based in the cities are responsible for attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Four Palestinians were killed and another 20 injured in an undercover raid in Jenin in mid-March, the latest in a series of deadly operations in the West Bank.

Israel was widely condemned in January after 10 people were killed in a raid in Jenin refugee camp.

Mr Smotrich is one of several government ministers to be rebuked for anti-Palestinian views.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has called for the death penalty for Palestinian terrorists and for Arab citizens of Israel to be deported.

Updated: March 26, 2023, 1:13 PM