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newsIsrael at War

In rare move, US slams Israeli ministers by name for calling for Palestinian resettlement

Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich had called for “voluntary migration” of Palestinians from Gaza and rebuilding Israeli settlements in the Strip.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Israeli government at the Knesset, on Dec. 29, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Israeli government at the Knesset, on Dec. 29, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Matthew Miller, the U.S. State Department spokesman, rejected calls on Tuesday from two Israeli ministers for Palestinians to be permanently resettled outside of Gaza and for Israel to re-establish Jewish communities within the Strip.

“This rhetoric is inflammatory and irresponsible,” Miller stated. “We have been told repeatedly and consistently by the government of Israel, including by the prime minister, that such statements do not reflect the policy of the Israeli government. They should stop immediately.”

Miller’s statement, which named Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, is a rare example of an official U.S. statement that calls out individual Israeli politicians for condemnation.

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich said in separate press statements on Monday that they support the permanent departure of some Palestinians from Gaza and the re-establishment of settlements.

The war against Hamas is an “opportunity to concentrate on encouraging the migration of the residents of Gaza,” said Ben-Gvir, adding that Israel “cannot withdraw from any territory we are in in the Gaza Strip. Not only do I not rule out Jewish settlement there, I believe it is also an important thing.”

Smotrich made similar comments, saying Israel must “permanently control the territory of the Gaza Strip.”

Israel completed its disengagement from Gaza in the summer of 2005, including the forced evacuation of all Jewish settlements.

“Really appreciate the United States of America, but with all due respect we are not another star on the American flag,” Ben-Gvir wrote in Hebrew on social media.

“The United States is our best friend, but first of all, we will do what is best for the State of Israel: The migration of hundreds of thousands from Gaza will allow the residents of the enclave to return home and live in security and protect the Israel Defense Forces soldiers,” he added.

Miller, of the State Department, reiterated on Tuesday the Biden administration’s position that Gaza must remain Palestinian after the war concludes.

“We have been clear, consistent and unequivocal that Gaza is Palestinian land and will remain Palestinian land, with Hamas no longer in control of its future and with no terror groups able to threaten Israel,” he said.

The United Nations estimates that some 1.8 million people have been internally displaced in Gaza, about 80% of the population. Egypt has generally refused to allow Gazans to cross into its territory, citing concerns that the population will not be allowed to return when the war concludes.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has previously said that “there must be no enduring internal displacement” of Palestinians from Gaza and that they should be allowed to return to their homes as soon as conditions permit.

While the United States rarely condemns Israeli political figures by name, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir have repeatedly drawn the ire of the State Department and American Jewish groups for hard-line positions on Palestinian issues.

In March, the State Department said that Smotrich’s comments were “repugnant” after he called for a Palestinian village to be “wiped out,” and many U.S. Jewish groups refused to meet with him during a visit to Washington, D.C., later that month.

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