Netanyahu claims opposition to settlements is 'ethnic cleansing'

Netanyahu claims opposition to settlements is 'ethnic cleansing'
2 min read
10 September, 2016
Israel's prime minister on Friday equated opposition to Israeli settlements in the occupied West bank to "ethnic cleansing", drawing a rare rebuke from the United States.
Israel's prime minister has recently approved new settlement units in the West Bank [AFP]

Israel's prime minister rejected international criticism of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank on Friday, equating opposition to them to "ethnic cleansing".

Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video posted online that he has "always been perplexed" by claims that Israeli settlement building is "an obstacle to peace."

"No one would seriously claim that the nearly 2 million Arabs living inside Israel, that they're an obstacle to peace," Netanyahu said.

"Yet the Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one precondition: No Jews. There's a phrase for that: It's called ethnic cleansing."

The bizarre statement was met by a rare rebuke from the United States, which has increasingly objected to Israel's expansion of settlement activities.

"We obviously strongly disagree with the characterisation 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. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful," State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters.

She said Israel's expansion of settlements raises "real questions about Israel's long-term intentions in the West Bank."

Ahmed Majdalani, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, dismissed Netanyahu's remarks as "lies."

"These are silly claims," he said. "It's Netanyahu who conducts ethnic cleansing every day in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories by announcing (new) settlement units... The settlements are an ongoing war."

Israel has been widely criticised for its settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law and major stumbling blocks to peace as they are built on land Palestinians see as part of their future state.

Palestinians also see east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, as the capital of their future state.

Israel has advanced plans for more than 1,000 housing units in east Jerusalem and 735 units in the West Bank since July 1, according to the United Nations.

About 400,000 Israeli settlers already live in some 120 settlements in the West Bank, in addition to another 200,000 Israeli Jews who live in east Jerusalem.

Palestinian argue that the growing number of settlers makes it increasingly difficult to establish their own state in these territories.

The Palestinians have demanded a halt to settlement construction ahead of any new peace talks.