Palestinians ‘an invention’ of past century: Israel’s Smotrich

After calling for Palestinian village to be ‘wiped out’, Israeli finance minister stirs new outrage by denying the existence of Palestinians.

Israeli transport minister
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has made inflammatory comments since Israel's far-right government came to power [File: Abir Sultan/EPA]

Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has sparked renewed backlash after saying the Palestinian people are “an invention” of the past century, with Palestinian officials blasting the comments as proof of the “racist” outlook of Israel’s new far-right government.

Speaking in Paris on Sunday, Smotrich said there was “no such thing as a Palestinian” because “there is no such thing as the Palestinian people”.

“Do you know who are the Palestinians? I’m Palestinian,” Smotrich said, going on to describe his late grandfather, who he said was a “13th generation Jerusalemite” as “the true Palestinian”.

“The Palestinian people is an invention that is less than 100 years old,” added Smotrich, an ultranationalist who also oversees civilian administration in the occupied West Bank.

His remarks were made during a memorial for Jacques Kupfer, an activist for Israel’s right-wing Likud party who died in 2021, with a video circulating online showing attendees responding to them with applause and cheers.

Smotrich is well-known for making inflammatory statements against Palestinians, as well as Palestinian citizens of Israel, and is a staunch opponent of the establishment of a Palestinian state.

On March 1, he triggered international outrage by saying the Palestinian village of Huwara in the West Bank should be wiped out following a rampage by Israeli settlers.

These comments were slammed as “repugnant” and “disgusting by the United States Department of State and prompted the French government to boycott him during his visit to Paris.

On Monday, Mohammad Shtayyeh, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA), said Smotrich’s latest remarks were “conclusive evidence of the extremist, racist, Zionist ideology that governs the current Israeli government”.

“These inflammatory statements, which are consistent with the first Zionist claims of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’, and that Palestinian lands are ‘disputed’, and which demonstrate the arrogance of power, do not shake our belonging to our land and history, and that all archaeological remnants and history prove the attachment of the Palestinian to his land since the dawn of human and human history,” Shtayyeh told a PA cabinet session in Ramallah.

“Israel is a colonial state established by the colonialists and settlers, and it expanded like other settler colonialism throughout history, and we have learned from history that colonialism will end, and that the will and belonging of our people are not shaken by the statements of the falsifiers of history and their false claims,” he said.

Similarly, the Palestinian foreign ministry strongly condemned Smotrich’s remarks and those by other top Israeli officials recently that included incitement against Palestinians and their economic interests, affirming that such positions reflect “the dark colonial mentality that has come to dominate” the Israeli state and encourage “the growth of Jewish extremism and terrorism” against Palestinians.

“These official calls by officials at the top of the Israeli political hierarchy aiming to create chaos and continue the cycle of violence with the aim of sabotaging efforts to achieve calm, a mentality hostile to peace and political solutions to the conflict based on the principle of a two-state solution and based on deepening and expanding settlements along the path of the gradual and creeping annexation of the occupied West Bank,” the ministry said.

Smotrich’s comments came hours after Israeli and PA delegations met on Sunday for a regional summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where they discussed containing tensions days before the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

The meeting, joined by delegations from the US, Jordan and Egypt, was a follow-up to a recent gathering held in Aqaba, Jordan last month – the first such high-level talks between Palestinian and Israeli leaders in years.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies