What are Israel's ministers saying about the expulsion of Gaza's residents?

What are Israel's ministers saying about the expulsion of Gaza's residents?
Israeli ministers have said they want to expel Palestinians from Gaza, prompting concern from Israel's key backers in Washington.
5 min read
03 January, 2024
Bezalel Smotrich (left) said that Gaza would be better "if there are 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs in Gaza and not two million” [Getty]

Israeli ministers have been pushing for the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza and making plans to permanently occupy the Palestinian territory, prompting even the US – Israel's staunchest ally – to publicly reject their rhetoric.

The alarming normalisation of the idea of relocating Palestinians from Gaza to make way for Israeli settlers could see a regression to the occupation of Gaza which took place between 1967 and 2005 - only this time with Gaza in ruins and much of Gaza's population expelled.

Here is a look at some of the inflammatory remarks made by Israeli ministers in recent weeks and since the start of Israel's brutal war on Gaza.

'Voluntary migration'

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the extreme-right Religious Zionism Party is known in Israel for his inflammatory rhetoric and extreme stances towards Palestinians. He was excluded from the prime minister’s war cabinet.

Ramping up previous incendiary remarks on Gaza's future, this week Smotrich claimed that 70 percent of the Israeli public supports the "voluntary migration" of Gazans to other countries.

“A small country like ours cannot allow a reality where four minutes away from our settlements there is a hotbed of hatred and terror where there are two million people who wake up every morning with the desire to destroy the State of Israel," he said.

Prior to this in a separate interview on Israel’s Army Radio, Smotrich said that Gaza would be better "if there are 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs in Gaza and not two million”.

Smotrich went on to call for Palestinians to leave Gaza to make way for Israelis who could “make the desert bloom”, invoking the Zionist myth that Palestine was a barren desert before the establishment of the Israeli state.

Earlier this week, extremist National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Jewish Power party, who has enabled the arming of settlers, said that the expulsion of Palestinians is the only ‘humane solution’.

Ben-Gvir, himself a settler, said: “Encouraging the residents of Gaza to emigrate is a solution we must advance…it’s the right, just, moral and humane solution.”

Such rhetoric is not limited to those on the extreme right of Israeli politics.

Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, said in an interview with Kan Bet radio that Israel needs to “make it easier for Gazans to leave for other countries”.

"I'm talking about voluntary migration by Palestinians who want to leave," Danon said, adding that there are nations in Latin America and Africa who are “willing to absorb refugees from the Gaza Strip”.

Live Story

What does Netanyahu want for Gazans?

Netanyahu has said that Israel should have military responsibility for the enclave, despite US opposition for the plan.

He has made apparently contradictory statements. Early in the war, when pressed by an ABC news reporter about the future of Gaza, he said that Israel will occupy the area for an "indefinite period" and hold "overall security responsibility" for Gaza.

Netanyahu later told Fox News that Israel does not “seek to conquer Gaza, we don't seek to occupy Gaza and we don't seek to govern Gaza”.

To his fellow party members, however, the Israeli leader has flirted with the idea of expelling Palestinians.

According to a report in Haaretz, Netanyahu, during a meeting with Likud politicians said that the main barrier to the establishment of a government task force for transferring Palestinians was guaranteeing “countries that are willing to absorb them, and we're working on this".

Where does the US stand?

Washington has maintained their view that a path needs to be laid out for a Palestinian state, with Biden saying early in the war that occupying Gaza would be a ‘big mistake’.

Even as Israel’s staunch ally and supporter of its war on Gaza, America has opposed Israeli ideas to relocate Palestinians with the help of Arab nations, including Egypt. Egyptian sources have expressed fears that Israel’s strategy of displacing Palestinians is an attempt to push Gaza’s population into the Sinai.

On Tuesday, the US State Department labelled Smotrich’s rhetoric “inflammatory and irresponsible”.

“The United States rejects the inflammatory and irresponsible statements from Israeli Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir. There should be no mass displacement of Palestinians from Gaza,” Spokesman Matthew Miller wrote on Tuesday in a post on X.

Ben-Gvir was quick to fire back at the US condemnation on X, saying: "I really admire the United States of America but with all due respect, we are not another star in the American flag."

"The United States is our best friend but before everything else, we will do what is good for the State of Israel: The emigration of hundreds of thousands from Gaza will allow [Israeli] residents [of the Gaza border area] to return home and live securely and protect Israeli soldiers," he added.

Washington has also rejected the idea of Israel militarily occupying Gaza, as it did for 38 years before withdrawing its military and settlers in 2005.

"Ultimately the control of Gaza, the administration of Gaza and the security of Gaza has to transition to the Palestinians,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters in December.

The US has distanced itself from the extreme rhetoric of Israeli ministers, however it has yet to condition or halt military aid to Israel amid its brutal onslaught on Gaza, which has so far killed over 22,000 Palestinians.