UAE condemns claim by Israel's Smotrich that there is 'no such thing' as Palestinians

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation says hate speech and violence should be confronted

Israel's Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has provoked outrage with his comments about the Palestinian people AFP
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The UAE has condemned a comment by Israeli Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich, in which he denied the existence of the Palestinian people.

Mr Smotrich provoked fury when he said there was no Palestinian history or culture and used a flag depicting expanded Israeli borders that incorporated Jordan and the Palestinian territories.

This prompted Amman to summon Israel's ambassador to Jordan, Eitan Sorkis, to receive a rebuke.

“There are no Palestinians, because there isn't a Palestinian people,” Mr Smotrich said on Sunday in Paris.

He was quoting French-Israeli Zionist activist Jacques Kupfer, according to a video circulating on social media.

The UAE condemned the statement, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation saying the UAE “rejected the incitement rhetoric and all practices that contradict moral and human values ​​and principles”.

The ministry said hate speech and violence should be confronted and values ​​of tolerance and human coexistence should be promoted to reduce escalation and instability in the region.

It said regional and international efforts to advance the peace process in the Middle East should be supported and illegal practices that threaten the two-state solution and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state should be brought to an end.

Jordan has been assured that the comments did not represent Israel's position, an official source said on Tuesday.

The source told Reuters that top Israeli officials said they rejected Mr Smotrich's comments and that they respected Jordan's borders and the peace treaty with the kingdom.

'Racist ideology'

On Monday, Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Sinan Al Majali said Mr Sorkis was told to relay to his government “a strong-worded letter of protest” from the kingdom.

The two countries signed a peace treaty in 1994.

“The ambassador was told of the need of his government to take a frank and clear position regarding these extremist and provocative statements,” Mr Al Majali said.

He said Mr Smotrich's remarks constituted “a dangerous escalation that threatens security and stability” and “racist, extremist ideology”.

An earlier statement by the ministry said Mr Smotrich's use of the map with expanded borders may be a breach of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

A representative for Mr Smotrich, head of one of the religious-nationalist parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right coalition, said the flag was a set decoration by the conference organisers and that the minister was a guest.

In his speech, evoking biblical “prophecies” that are “beginning to come true,” Mr Smotrich said: “After 2,000 years … God is gathering his people. The people of Israel are returning home.”

“There are Arabs around who don't like it, so what do they do? They invent a fictitious people and claim fictitious rights to the land of Israel, only to fight the Zionist movement,” he said.

“It is the historical truth, it is the biblical truth,” he added.

“The Arabs in Israel must hear it, as well as certain Jews in Israel who are confused — this truth must be heard here at the Elysee Palace, and at the White House in Washington, and everyone must hear this truth.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned Mr Smotrich's remarks, saying they amounted to incitement to violence.

A separate statement by the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said that by denying the existence of the Palestinian people and their legitimate national rights in their homeland, Israeli leaders “foster an environment that fuels Jewish extremism and terrorism against our people.”

Such positions “continue the spiral of violence with the aim of sabotaging efforts to achieve calm.”

Mr Smotrich's comments came as Israeli and Palestinian representatives met in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh along with Egyptian, Jordanian and US officials for “extensive discussions on ways to de-escalate tensions between the Palestinians and Israelis”, according to a joint statement.

It is not the first time Mr Smotrich has caused controversy with comments aimed at the Palestinian people. Earlier in March, he called for the Palestinian town of Hawara to be “erased” — a statement later condemned by Mr Netanyahu as “inappropriate”.

He was consequently boycotted on a US trip by prominent Jewish figures, despite issuing an apology.

Updated: March 21, 2023, 9:04 AM