Gulf states appeal to US on Israeli minister Smotrich's 'no Palestinians exist' comments

Gulf states appeal to US on Israeli minister Smotrich's 'no Palestinians exist' comments
The Gulf Cooperation Council's request comes in response to finance minister Bezalel Smotrich's recent inflammatory comments on Palestinian people, in which he claimed that they 'didn't exist'.
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Bezalel Smotrich has a history of making offensive comments on Palestinians [Getty]

The Gulf Cooperation Council said Sunday it had written to Washington's top diplomat condemning controversial comments from Israel's finance minister in which he denied the existence of a Palestinian people.

The GCC, in a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, called on Washington "to assume its responsibilities in responding to all measures and statements that target the Palestinian people".

The letter from the six-member GCC's foreign ministers also called on the United States "to play its role in reaching a just, comprehensive and lasting solution" to tensions in the West Bank, prompted by Israel's relentless violence in the occupied territory.

Israel's far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, speaking earlier this month, said that the Palestinians did not exist as a people, comments that sparked outrage among Arab nations.

The US State Department said they had found Smotrich's comments "to not only be inaccurate but also deeply concerning and dangerous".

Smotrich, a self-proclaimed settler actvist, is part of veteran Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government that took office in December.

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The GCC ministers also denounced earlier remarks by Smotrich that called for the Palestinian town of Hawara in the West Bank to be "wiped out" following a shooting incident that killed two Israeli settlers in February.

Smotrich's remarks then prompted what was described as a pogrom in the Palestinian town, where settlers vandalised and torched Palestinian properties and vehicles. One Palestinian man was killed, with hundreds injured.

The GCC, whose foreign ministers met in Riyadh last week, includes the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which normalised relations with Israel under the US-brokered 2020 Abraham Accords, as well as Saudi Arabia, which has not.

Violence has intensified in the West Bank in recent months, which Israel invaded during the Six-Day War of 1967.

Israel has since occupied the territory, inflicting almost-daily violence, harassment and threats on Palestinian people, as settlements - deemed illegal by the international community - have expanded.

Israeli forces have killed over 80 Palestinians since the start of the year, including 16 children.

On Tuesday, the State Department criticised a move by Israel's parliament to annul part of a law banning Israelis from living in areas of the West Bank evacuated in 2005, calling it "provocative" and in direct contradiction of promises made to Washington at the time.

Blinken, appearing before a Senate committee, also reiterated previous US pushback on Smotrich's comments about Palestinians, saying they do not reflect US values.