Outrage over Netanyahu’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ remark

Accusing Palestinians of ethnic cleansing is "inappropriate" and "unhelpful," says US.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting the Dutch parliament at the Binnenhof,  in the Hague, the Netherlands, on September 7, 2016.  Bart Maat / EPA
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting the Dutch parliament at the Binnenhof, in the Hague, the Netherlands, on September 7, 2016. Bart Maat / EPA

JERUSALEM // Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced an outraged backlash after he likened Palestinian refusal to allow Jews to live in their future state to “ethnic cleansing.”

Washington issued a rebuke, calling his words “unhelpful” and “inappropriate”. State department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said, “We obviously strongly disagree with the characterisation that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful. Settlements are a final status issue that must be resolved in negotiations between the parties.”

In a video released Friday, Mr Netanyahu rejected the notion that West Bank settlements were “an obstacle to peace”, asserting that the “nearly two million Arabs” living in Israel was evidence of “Israel’s diversity” and “openness and readiness for peace.” Speaking in English in the video message which was posted on his Facebook page, Mr Netanyahu went on, “Yet the Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one precondition: No Jews. There’s a phrase for that: it’s called ethnic cleansing.”

Israeli opposition member Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union party accused him of “trying to make political gains while creating diplomatic damage”.

She said the video had caused the US position to change from accepting settlement blocs to rejecting the entire West Bank enterprise.

“After Netanyahu’s video, the US is saying that all the settlements, including the blocs, are an obstacle, whereas in the past they were recognised,” she said via a spokesman.

Ayman Odeh, who heads the Joint List that groups the main Arab parties in parliament, accused Mr Netanyahu of creating “an imaginary reality” and rejected the comparison between Israeli Arabs and Jewish West Bank settlers.

“Netanyahu doesn’t care that it is the settlements that were established precisely to cruelly expel the Palestinian populace from the West Bank to limited territories around the major cities,” he wrote on Facebook.

Peace efforts have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014, with both Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declaring on Tuesday that they were ready to meet to relaunch peace efforts.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been seeking to arrange a meeting between the two in Moscow.

International criticism of Israeli settlement building, including from the United States, has intensified in recent months.

The Netanyahu government, considered to be the most right-wing in the country’s history, has nonetheless continued with the policy.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law and major obstacles to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 10, 2016 04:00 AM

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