Israeli Gov't Goes Ahead With Plan 03/20 06:04
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- A firebrand Israeli minister claimed there's "no
such thing" as a Palestinian people as Israel's new coalition government, its
most hard-line ever, plowed ahead on Monday with a part of its plan to overhaul
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition said it was pushing a key part
of the overhaul -- which would give the coalition control over who becomes a
justice or a judge -- before the parliament takes a monthlong holiday break
The development came a day after an Israeli and Palestinian delegation at a
meeting in Egypt, mediated by Egyptian, Jordanian and U.S. officials, pledged
to take steps to lower tensions roiling the region ahead of a sensitive holiday
It reflected the limited influence the Biden administration appears to have
over Israel's new far-right government and raised questions about attempts to
lower tensions, both inside Israel and with the Palestinians, ahead of a
sensitive holiday season.
As the negotiators were issuing a joint communique, Israeli Finance Minister
Bezalel Smotrich delivered a speech in Paris saying the notion of a Palestinian
people was artificial.
"There is no such thing as a Palestinian nation. There is no Palestinian
history. There is no Palestinian language," he said in France late Sunday. He
spoke at a lectern draped with what appeared to be a map of Israel that
included the occupied West Bank and parts of Jordan.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry called Smotrich's remarks "racist, fascist
A far-right settler leader who opposes Palestinian statehood, Smotrich has a
history of offensive statements against the Palestinians. Last month, he called
for the Palestinian town of Hawara in the West Bank to be "erased" after
radical Jewish settlers rampaged through the town in response to a shooting
attack that killed two Israelis. Smotrich later apologized after an
During Sunday's talks in Egypt, a Palestinian gunman carried out another
shooting attack in Hawara, seriously wounding an Israeli man.
The new violence, along with Smotrich's comments, illustrated the tough
challenges that lie ahead in soothing tensions after a year of deadly violence
in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. More than 200 Palestinians have been
killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and more than 40
Israelis or foreigners have been killed in Palestinian attacks during that time.
Sunday's summit was held ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which
begins this week. The Jewish festival of Passover is set to take place in
April, coinciding with Ramadan.
The upcoming period is sensitive because large numbers of Jewish and Muslim
faithful pour into Jerusalem's Old City, the emotional heart of the conflict
and a flashpoint for violence, increasing friction points.
Large numbers of Jews are also expected to visit a key Jerusalem holy site,
known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount -- an
act the Palestinians view as a provocation.
Clashes at the site in 2021 helped trigger an 11-day war between Israel and
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
The heightened tensions with the Palestinians coincide with mass
demonstrations inside Israel against Netanyahu's plans to overhaul the judicial
system. Opponents of the measure have carried out disruptive protests, and the
debate has embroiled the country's military, where some reservists are refusing
to show up for service. Netanyahu has rejected a compromise by Israel's
During his call with Netanyahu, Biden appealed for caution, the White House
said, "as a friend of Israel in the hopes that there can be a compromise
The president "underscored his belief that democratic values have always
been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship," the White
House said, and added that "fundamental changes should be pursued with the
broadest possible base of popular support."
Netanyahu's government says the plan is meant to correct an imbalance that
has given the courts too much power over the legislative process. Critics say
the overhaul would upend the country's delicate system of checks and balances
and push Israel toward authoritarianism. They also say Netanyahu could find an
escape route from his corruption trial through the overhaul.
The protests, along with the rising violence with the Palestinians, have
posed a major challenge for the new government. So far this year, 85
Palestinians have been killed, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
Fourteen people in Israel, all but one of them civilians, have been killed in
Israel says most of those killed have been militants. But stone-throwing
youths protesting the incursions and people not involved in the confrontations
have also been killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967
Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their future