The US State Department on Friday condemned remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming Palestinians wanted to ethnically cleanse Jews from the illegally occupied West Bank, while Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign said it agreed with Netanyahu and compared Palestinians — who many historians say have been victims of Jewish ethnic cleansing — to Nazis.
In a video posted on YouTube on Friday, Netanyahu noted that Israel has nearly two million Arabs living within its borders. “Israel’s diversity shows its openness and readiness for peace,” he said, “yet the Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one precondition: no Jews.”
“There’s a phrase for that,” Netanyahu added. “It’s called ethnic cleansing. And this demand is outrageous.”
Netanyahu may have been referring to a 2013 statement by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in which he discussed what an independent Palestinian state would look like, saying that “in a final resolution we would not see the presence of a single Israeli, civilian or soldier, on our lands.” Abbas said “Israeli,” not “Jew,” but his statement caused alarm among many Israelis and their supporters.
The US State Department reacted quickly to Netanyahu’s video. “We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said on Friday in Washington, DC. “We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful.”
”We share the view of every past US administration, and the strong consensus of the international community, that ongoing settlement activity is an obstacle to peace,” Trudeau said. “We continue to call on both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to the two-state solution.”
Trudeau added that Israel’s settlement policy, which has been nominally opposed by the Obama administrations even as the US has provided an average of $3 billion in annual military aid, raises “real questions about Israel’s long-term intentions in the West Bank.”
However, Haaretz reports David Friedman, Donald Trump’s adviser on US-Israeli relations, said on Sunday that Netanyahu “makes exactly the right point.”
“The Palestinians want Israel to absorb countless ‘refugees’ — people who never lived in Israel and whose ancestors were never forced to leave Israel — while their so-called ‘state’ is required to be, as the Nazis said, Judenrein (Jew-free),” said Friedman. “It is an entirely racist and anti-Semitic position.”
Under international law, and according to a 1978 State Department legal opinion, Jewish settler colonies built or expanded on Palestinian territory are illegal. Israel’s 49-year occupation of the West Bank is also illegal under international law, although Israel refutes the illegality of both the settlements and the occupation. Israel points to the fact that Jews have lived in Palestine for thousands of years, however, from ancient times until the early 20th century Jews never numbers more than 10 percent of the population of the territory comprising the state of Israel today.
International critics, including former United Nations human rights official Richard Falk (who is Jewish American), the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé and the late activist and Holocaust survivor Suzanne Weiss have asserted that Israeli settlement construction and expansion amount to “ethnic cleansing.” Other prominent international observers, including the Nobel peace laureates Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, have accused Israel of practicing “apartheid” against the Palestinians. Some critics of Israel noted the irony of Netanyahu, who they say is guilty of authorizing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, claiming his victims are actually the ones seeking to ethnically cleanse Jews.
In 1948, Jews reeling from both the genocidal violence of the Holocaust and the international community’s general refusal to aid Jewish refugees, declared Israel’s independence. At least 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, sometimes through threats, terrorist attacks and massacres, as neighboring and nearby Arab nations launched an all-out offensive to thwart Israeli statehood. Another 200,000 people were expelled as Israel conquered the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights while again battling numerous Arab nations in 1967. Palestinians call the 1948-49 crisis the Nakba, or catastrophe, which is widely accepted, even among more progressive Israelis, as an ethnic cleansing campaign — Jewish perpetrators actually used the word “cleanse” to refer to their Palestinian removal efforts.