'Messianic' ministers exploiting Gaza war to displace Palestinians, Israeli expert says

Thousands attended mass conference in Jerusalem on Sunday, where calls to reintroduce illegal settlements in Gaza were prominent

Israel's far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, centre, at an event in Jerusalem calling for illegal settlements in Gaza. Getty Images
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Growing endorsement of Gaza settlements is raising fears that Israelis and allied politicians are exploiting the war to advance the often religiously driven project to create Israeli communities in Palestinian lands, an expert has said.

Powerful radical settler factions in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government are becoming increasingly influential, as dozens of politicians, including some in his own party, publicly lend their support to resurrecting illegal settlements in the strip.

The warning from lawyer Daniel Seidemann, who has briefed foreign governments on the issue of such Israeli settlements, came the day after a large conference in Jerusalem on Sunday heard calls for the re-establishment of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

The event was attended by thousands of Israelis, including members of the Knesset and government ministers, 11 of whom pledged to rebuild outposts in Gaza that were evacuated in 2005.

“What took place last night is an indication of just how radically far the needle has moved,” Mr Seidemann told The National.

“Things that were unthinkable a mere 10 years ago are not only thinkable, some are happening.

“Netanyahu is silent. His silence on this is almost as damning as the event itself.”

Among those attending Sunday’s impassioned gathering in Jerusalem were Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Illegal settlements have long been viewed as one of the main obstacles to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Palestinian explosion

Radical settler politicians form a significant bloc within Mr Netanyahu’s coalition government, viewed as the most right-wing in the country’s history.

Mr Seidemann said many such politicians have welcomed the Gaza war as a chance to “fulfil their real dreams: the expulsion and displacement of Palestinians in order to establish their renewed pseudo-biblical kingdom”.

“There is a large segment of Israeli society who view this war not as a response to the slaughter on October 7, or the removal of a threat on Israel’s southern border. They see this as an opportunity to finish off the Palestinians, break their will and expel them.”

Mr Seidemann said this group view it as the “job of this government to fulfil a sacred mission as part of a divine scheme with messianic aspirations … to correct all sorts of wrongs and major blunders of the Zionist enterprise”.

These include imposing Israeli control over Al Aqsa Mosque compound, one of the main flashpoints in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Mr Karhi also called for encouraging the “voluntary emigration” of Palestinians from Gaza, an idea floated by a number of government figures since the October 7 attacks.

The idea has been condemned by Palestinians as an attempt to inflict a second Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe, which refers to the mass displacement of Palestinians in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

“It’s very interesting how last night and before, the people who deny the first Nakba are advocating the second and calling it by name,” Mr Seidemann said.

Israeli government ministers have been criticised internationally for outlandish proposals to end the Gaza war in recent weeks.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell last week hit out at Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz for suggesting a plan to move Palestinians to an artificial island off the coast of Gaza.

"I think that the minister could have used his time better to worry about the situation in his country, or the high death toll in Gaza," Mr Borrell said.

Updated: January 29, 2024, 5:01 PM