Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich's claim that "there is no such thing as a Palestinian people" is "offensive," US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters in Washington on Tuesday.
"The Palestinians have a rich history and culture, and the United States greatly values our partnership with the Palestinian people,” Patel said.
He recalled the statement President Joe Biden made when he traveled to the Palestinian territories last summer and visited Bethlehem, explaining that “the US remains committed to two states for two people, both of whom have deep ancient roots in the land, living side‑by‑side in peace and security.”
National Missions Minister Orit Struck spoke out on Wednesday in support of Smotrich, telling Israel radio that his comments were historically accurate and reflected those already made by former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that there was no such thing as a Palestinian people.
“He took it straight from Golda Meir,” she said. If a Palestinian people did not exist in the 1970s, then “I don’t see how they were born at some point between the 1970s and now.”
“There is no Palestinian people, that is just a historical fact,” she said adding that historically the state of Israel was built on territory that had been part of the ancient biblical state.
She didn’t address the presence of the Palestinian people on the land, before their national awakening in the late 19th century.
Smotrich has not rescinded his words nor has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned them.
The Foreign Ministry, has, however, taken issue with a second controversy with Smotrich’s speech that sparked a crisis with Jordan.
Smotrich made his comments at a private event in Paris, in which he stood at a podium adorned with a graphic, which looked like a map with extended Israeli borders to include Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank and denied the existence of the Palestinian people.
Jordan has warned that it considers this to be a violation of its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
The Foreign Ministry stated support for the treaty emphasizing that it supported Jordan’s territorial integrity. National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi also personally assured Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi that this was Israel's position.
Patel takes issue with the map
Patel also took issue with the graphic of the map in denouncing Smotrich’s words.
“The latest comments by Mr. Smotrich, which were delivered at a podium adorned with an inaccurate and provocative map, are offensive, they are deeply concerning, and, candidly, they’re dangerous.”
“We underscore the importance of the US strategic relationship with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the second Arab state to take the courageous step of making peace with Israel. And we welcome Israel’s reaffirmation of the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan,” Patel said.
"We also affirmed that two states along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps remain the best way to achieve equal measures of security, prosperity, and freedom and democracy for Palestinians and Israelis alike."
However, Patel stopped short of saying the US would declare Smotrich persona non grata when asked by Al Quds Washington bureau chief Said Arikat if it was willing to do so.
"This Israeli minister was here only ten days ago. Is this administration willing to declare him a persona non grata, for instance?" Arikat asked.
"We’re taking a strong statement now, and I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about what we would do if another government official in another country did something hypothetical," Patel replied.
Smotrich had already angered the Biden administration by calling for the IDF to wipe out the West Bank Palestinian town of Huwara. He later clarified he meant for his words to be interpreted as a call for the IDF to route out terrorists in Huwara.
He walked back his words both in a Facebook post and in a speech he delivered in the US.