Israel's Smotrich refuses to release Gaza funds, repeats calls for Palestinian expulsion
Extreme-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Tuesday rejected US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s call for Israel to release withheld Palestinian tax revenues by vowing that he won’t “transfer one shekel” to Palestinians in Gaza, who he called “Nazis”.
“We really appreciate US support for Israel, but when it comes to our existence in our land, we will always act according to the Israeli interest,” Smotrich, who leads the extreme-right Religious Zionism party, wrote on X.
“Therefore we will continue to fight with all our strength to destroy Hamas. We will not transfer a shekel to the Palestinian Authority [PA] that will reach the families of Nazis in Gaza,” he added, using language that he has previously used to smear Palestinians.
On his visit to Israel on Tuesday, Blinken made clear that the US wants Israel to immediately release the tax revenue Tel Aviv collects on behalf of the PA, which is then proportionately divided between the West Bank and Gaza. Israel suspended the payments almost three months ago after the onset of its war on the strip in October.
Despite repeated US pressure, Israel continues to withhold the funds, which Washington fears could lead to the collapse of the PA in the occupied West Bank.
“Israel must be a partner to Palestinian leaders who are willing to lead their people in living side by side in peace with Israel as neighbours”, Blinken said in Tel Aviv.
The withholding of the funds is also exacerbating the unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
Smotrich also responded to Blinken’s rejection of any plan to ethnically cleanse Gazans, which is something the far-right minister, who has a history of incitement against Palestinians, has been keenly advocating.
Blinken said on Tuesday that, “In today’s meetings [with Israeli leaders] I was crystal clear that Palestinian civilians must be able to return home as soon as conditions allow. They must not be pressed to leave Gaza.”
On X, however, Smotrich urged “the opening of Gaza’s gates for the voluntary emigration of refugees, as the international community has acted regarding refugees from Syria and Ukraine”.
Smotrich, who is a leading figure in Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition government, has previously called for the ethnic cleansing of the civilian population of Gaza, saying Jews should settle the land instead.
“Let’s think out of the box,” Smotrich said on December 31, “If in Gaza there will be 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs and not 2 million, the entire conversation on ‘the day after’ will look different”.