by Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought on Sunday to soften international outrage over a call by an far-right member of his cabinet to “wipe out” a flashpoint Palestinian village, saying the comments were “inappropriate”.
But Netanyahu also pushed back against Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s condemnation, accusing foreign powers of stoking Palestinian violence like the February 26 killing of two Israeli brothers in the village of Huwara, which provoked a settler there .
Smotrich said last week that while he opposed hypervigilance, he believed that “Huwara needed to be eradicated” by Israel.
The US State Department called the comments “irresponsible,” “disgusting” and “abhorrent” and said Netanyahu should own up to and disavow them.
The UN human rights chief said that Smotrich had made “an unfathomable statement of incitement to violence”.
After Israeli media speculated that Smotrich, who is scheduled to visit Washington next week, would be ostracized by the US administration and complicate his relationship with the Netanyahu government, he offered a retraction on Saturday but did not apologize. .
“Upsettingly, I missed,” Smotrich told Channel 12 TV.
The Palestinians have urged the US administration not to receive Smotrich. Netanyahu has said that he – and not coalition partners like Smotrich – calls the shots on Israeli diplomacy.
“It is important for all of us to work to tone down the rhetoric,” Netanyahu tweeted on Sunday, “to make it clear that his choice of wording … was inappropriate”.
Netanyahu said, “I am still waiting to hear the condemnation of the Palestinian Authority for the murder of the Yaniv brothers.” “And Israel is waiting for the international community to insist that the PA condemn that attack. Not only has it not done so, it has turned a blind eye to the PA’s massive provocation.”
On Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted: “Just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we also condemn Treasury Secretary Smotrich’s inflammatory comments, which amount to incitement to violence. It is necessary that Palestinians and Israelis work together to restore peace.”
At least 62 Palestinians, including gunmen and civilians, have been killed since the beginning of 2023, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said. According to Israel, thirteen Israelis and one Ukrainian tourist died in Palestinian attacks during the same period.
The brothers killed in Huwara were from a nearby Jewish settlement, a community the Palestinians consider negotiators over the occupied West Bank land they want for a future state. Most world powers consider the settlements illegal. Israel disputes this.
Hours after the brothers were shot in their car by a gunman who fled the scene, settlers rioted in Huwara. A Palestinian man was shot dead, dozens of others were injured, and homes and cars were set on fire. Israel has arrested 10 suspects in the stampede.
Smotrich is set to appear at the Israel Bonds meeting on March 12, whose website says the event will also feature “high-level US government speakers.” That speaker doesn’t have a name.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Bernadette Baum)