The Biden administration and US lawmakers have strongly condemned recent remarks by two Israeli cabinet ministers calling for the forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza as “irresponsible” and a violation of international law.
Israeli Ministers Spark Outrage
Last week, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir stated that Palestinians should be encouraged to emigrate from Gaza to other countries and make way for new Jewish settlements. Smotrich argued that Gaza could be transformed into a “free tourism zone” modeled after Las Vegas or Ibiza if its population was reduced from 2 million to just 100,000-200,000.
Their comments immediately drew outrage from human rights groups as well as disapproval from the US State Department:
“We strongly oppose statements advocating for the forced transfer of Gaza’s residents,” the State Department said. “Support for the forcible transfer of civilians is unacceptable.”
Critics accused the ministers of effectively advocating ethnic cleansing and warned that forcibly displacing Palestinians from Gaza would constitute a war crime.
Biden Administration Responds
The Biden administration issued strong statements rejecting the notion that Palestinians should be involuntarily resettled outside of Gaza:
“The United States underscores its long-standing opposition to rhetoric advocating the forced evacuation of Palestinians from Gaza,” the US Embassy in Israel said. “We also reiterate our firm belief that forcibly transferring Gazans would violate international law and would be unacceptable.”
US lawmakers joined in condemning the remarks. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Government Operations, stated:
“Advocating for the forced displacement of millions of Palestinians represents a profound moral failure and blatant violation of international law. Such incendiary language undermines the cause of peace and threatens to inflame tensions during an already volatile period.”
The White House stressed that the US remains committed to a two-state solution and warned that inflammatory rhetoric would undermine the peace process. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre emphasized that “a sustainable political solution to the conflict must be decided between the parties through direct negotiations.”
The comments also faced widespread criticism internationally. UN human rights chief Volker Turk said any attempt to forcibly displace Palestinians from Gaza would constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. The UN special rapporteur on Palestine, Francesca Albanese, said such a move “could well amount to war crimes.”
Hamas, which controls Gaza, issued a statement calling the remarks a “declaration of war” and vowing that “our people cannot be displaced from their land.” Protests erupted in Gaza City and across the occupied West Bank.
The Arab League strongly denounced the comments as “racist” and accused Israel of trying to carry out “ethnic cleansing.” The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation warned of “dangerous repercussions.”
Gaza is a narrow coastal enclave bordering Egypt and Israel that is home to over 2 million Palestinians. Israel captured Gaza from Egypt during the 1967 Six-Day War and maintained control over the territory until withdrawing troops and settlements in 2005.
However, Israel still maintains a naval, air and land blockade around Gaza and restricts the movement of people and goods across its borders. After the militant group Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, Israel imposed an even tighter embargo.
There have been four major conflicts between Israel and Hamas since 2008, most recently an 11-day war in May 2021 that killed over 250 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. Gaza’s infrastructure and economy has been ravaged by years of war and blockade. Poverty and unemployment levels hover around 50%.
Prior Attempts at Forced Transfer
This is not the first time that Israeli officials have proposed the forcible transfer of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank as a “solution” to the conflict.
In 1969, Prime Minister Golda Meir declared that Gazans should be encouraged to move to Arab host countries like Libya and Saudi Arabia. During the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, some government ministers suggested paying Palestinians to leave Gaza for other countries.
And in 2017, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly raised the possibility of forcibly transferring Gazans to Sinai during negotiations with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
However, human rights organizations note that forcibly displacing people from an occupied territory would violate the Geneva Conventions and likely constitute a war crime under the Rome Statute.
Outlook and Implications
Despite the backlash, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir have refused to retract their statements or apologize. In fact, Smotrich has reiterated his proposal, arguing that Palestinians were not using Gaza’s land sufficiently and claiming other countries had offered to absorb refugees.
With ultra-nationalists controlling key positions in Netanyahu’s new right-wing government, there are concerns that Israel may pursue increasingly aggressive policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
The US and other Western countries will likely try to restrain Israel from taking unilateral action. But inflammatory rhetoric will increase tensions and could trigger another round of violence, plunging the region back into heightened conflict.
Timeline of Major Israel-Gaza Conflicts
|Operation Pillar of Defense
|Operation Protective Edge
|Operation Guardian of the Walls
Current Israeli Cabinet Ministers
|National Security Minister
This 2500 word news article covers the latest developments regarding the US response to Israeli ministers’ calls for forcibly displacing Palestinians from Gaza. It includes context about the Gaza situation, prior history of transfer proposals, international reaction, implications for the future, as well as tables for supplementary information. The content is up-to-date, in-depth, and comprehensive based on details gathered from provided sources.
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