Edith M. Lederer
AP / March 23, 2023
UNITED NATIONS – The Palestinians and Israel clashed over the future intentions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far right-wing government at a U.N.
Security Council meeting Wednesday, with the Palestinian U.N. ambassador pointing to an Israeli minister’s statement “denying our existence to justify what is to come.”
Israel’s U.N. ambassador countered that the minister had apologized, and accused the Palestinian leadership of regularly inciting terrorism and erasing Jewish history.
The council’s always contentious monthly meeting on the Mideast was even more acrimonious in the face of comments and actions by Israel’s new coalition government, which has faced relentless protests over its plan to overhaul the judiciary and strong criticism of Tuesday’s repeal by lawmakers of a 2005 act that saw four Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank dismantled at the same time that Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip.
Palstinian ambassador Riyad Mansour told the Security Council the statement by firebrand Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich claiming there’s “no such thing” as a Palestinian people wasn’t part of “a theoretical exercise” but was made as Israel’s unlawful annexation of territory the Palestinians insist must be part of their independent state “is more than underway.”
While not all Israeli officials go as far as denying the existence of Palestinians, some deny Palestinian rights, humanity and connection to the land, Mansour said.
Last year was the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank, with the past three months “even worse,” he said. So far this year, 85 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, and Palestinian attackers have killed 15 Israelis, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
Nonetheless, with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the approach of the Jewish holiday Passover and Christianity’s Easter observance, Mansour said the Palestinians decided to be “unreasonably reasonable” and leave no stone unturned to prevent bloodshed.
The Palestinian envoy urged the Security Council and the international community to mobilize every effort “to stop annexation, violence against our people, and provocations.” Everyone has a duty to act now “with every means at our disposal, to prevent a fire that will devour everything it encounters,” he said.
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan called his country “unquestionably the most vibrant liberal democracy in the Middle East” and accused the Palestinians of repeating lies, glorifying terrorists who spilled innocent Israeli blood and “regurgitating fabrications” that are not going to solve the decades-old conflict.
“To the Palestinian representative, I say: ‘Shame on you. Shame on you.’ It is so audacious that you dare condemn the words of Israeli minister who apologized and clarified what he meant, while your president and the rest of (the) Palestinian leadership regularly, regularly incite terrorism, never condemn the murders of Israeli civilians, praise Palestinian terrorists, and actively attempt to rewrite facts and the truth by erasing Jewish history,” he said.
Erdan accused the Palestinians of being “dead set on encouraging more violence” while Israel has taken significant steps to de-escalate the current tensions by sitting down with Palestinian officials in Jordan in February and on Sunday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh.
In a joint communique afterward, the two sides had pledged to take steps to lower tensions ahead of the sensitive holiday season — including a partial freeze on Jewish settlement activity and an agreement to work together to “curb and counter violence.”
The Palestinians seek the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Mideast war. Since then, more than 700,000 Jewish Israelis have moved into dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — which most of the world considers illegal and an obstacle to peace.
But Netanyahu’s government has put settlement expansion at the top of its agenda and has already advanced thousands of new settlement housing units and retroactively authorized nine wildcat outposts in the West Bank.
The repeal of the 2005 act on the four West Bank settlements came after Sunday’s agreement, and a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded two Israelis in the West Bank underscored the difficulties in implementing the joint communique. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, criticized the repeal, summoning Israel’s U.S. ambassador, and other countries were also critical.
Netanyahu appeared to back down Wednesday, saying his government has no intention of returning to the four abandoned settlements.
Ambassador Erdan echoed him, saying “the state of Israel has no intention of building any new communities there,” but he said the new law “rights a historic wrong” and will allow Israelis to enter areas that are “the birthplace of our heritage.”