Israeli minister supports ‘voluntary migration’ of Palestinians in Gaza

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich calls the move the ‘right humanitarian solution’. Critics call it ‘ethnic cleansing’.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich
From left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich [File: Ronen Zvulun/Pool]

Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, says the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians in Gaza is the “right humanitarian solution” for the besieged enclave and for the region, a stance Palestinian officials liken to support of “ethnic cleansing”.

Smotrich made the comments after Knesset members Danny Danon, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, and Ram Ben-Barak, former deputy director of the intelligence agency Mossad, published a commentary in The Wall Street Journal on Monday suggesting moving some of Gaza’s population to nations that will accept them.

“I welcome the initiative of members of Knesset Ram Ben-Barak and Danny Danon on the voluntary immigration of Gaza Arabs to the countries of the world. This is the right humanitarian solution for the residents of Gaza and the entire region,” Smotrich wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

“A cell with a small area like the Gaza Strip without natural resources and independent sources of livelihood has no chance to exist independently, economically and politically in such a high density for a long time.

“The reception of refugees by the countries of the world that really want their best interests, with the support and generous financial assistance of the international community and within the state of Israel, is the only solution that will bring to an end the suffering and pain of Jews and Arabs alike.”

“The state of Israel will no longer be able to put up with the existence of an independent entity in Gaza,” he added.

The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described Smotrich’s comments as “part of Israel’s colonial, racist plan” for Palestinians. It accused Israel of engaging in a “genocide” supported by Smotrich and added that the only solution was for international intervention to end Israel’s occupation.

Mustafa Barghouti, general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, said in a post on X that Smotrich “revealed the real policy and intentions of the Israeli government”.

“[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu himself said in the beginning of the Israeli war on Gaza that all Gazans must evict their homes. Ethnic cleansing is a war crime and it is done by bombarding an unprotected civilian population.”

Netanyahu reportedly has lobbied European leaders to help him persuade the Egyptian president to take in refugees from Gaza. Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence also has outlined a proposal to “evacuate” all Palestinians from Gaza to Egypt.

On Tuesday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said his country rejected any attempt to justify or encourage the displacement of Palestinians outside the Gaza Strip and called Smotrich’s comments “an expression of the Israeli government’s policy that violates international laws”.

“Any attempt to justify and encourage the displacement of Palestinians outside the Gaza Strip is completely rejected by Egypt and internationally,” the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

In March, there was a backlash against Smotrich after he said the Palestinian people are “an invention” of the past century. Palestinian officials blasted his comments as proof of the “racist” outlook of Israel’s far-right government.

In their article on Monday, Danon and Ben-Barak said Europe had a long history of assisting refugees fleeing conflicts, and based on that example, “countries around the world should offer a haven for Gaza residents who seek relocation”.

“Countries can accomplish this by creating well-structured and internationally coordinated relocation programs,” they wrote.

A majority of Palestinians were expelled from their homeland in 1948 during the creation of the state of Israel – an event they refer to as the Nakba, or “catastrophe”.

Most people in Gaza today are the children or grandchildren of those displaced during the Nakba. They now risk being permanently uprooted again, which is a war crime under international law.

Rejecting Smotrich’s comments, Osama Hamdan, spokesperson of Palestinian group Hamas, said: We are here to stay.”

Hamdan also said that Netanyahu does not care that Israeli captives are being killed in air strikes and that this war is a personal mission to distract from his legal woes.

“It’s still early days for the battle and the next phase is bigger and more intense,” according to the Hamas representative in Beirut.

Source: Al Jazeera