(CNSNews.com) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday joined a chorus of criticism directed at Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s provocative assertion that the Palestinian Authority insistence that no Jews be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state is tantamount to “ethnic cleansing.”
“I am disturbed by a recent statement by Israel’s prime minister portraying those who oppose settlement expansion as supporters of ethnic cleansing,” Ban told the U.N. Security Council. “This is unacceptable and outrageous.”
“Let me be absolutely clear,” he continued. “Settlements are illegal under international law. The occupation, stifling and oppressive, must end.”
Netanyahu’s comments, in an online video message posted last week, earlier drew an earlier State Department reprimand and widespread ridicule from his critics.
But undisputed is the fact that if P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas had his way, half a million Israeli Jews living in areas he wants for an independent state – the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem – would have to leave.
At the same time, 1.77 million Palestinian Arab citizens make up 20.8 percent of the Israeli population, according to Central Bureau of Statistics figures released last May. That marked an annual growth rate of 2.2 percent for Israeli Arabs, compared to 1.7 percent for Israeli Jews.
No mainstream Israeli politician has ever suggested that those Arabs move to an envisaged Palestinian state under the “two-state” solution promoted by the U.S., European Union and broader international community.
Yet Abbas has declared unambiguously that no Jews will be allowed to live in a Palestinian state
“In a final resolution [of the conflict], we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands,” Abbas said during a visit to Egypt in 2013.
The following year, Abbas’ top negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated that stance.
“No settler will be permitted to stay in a Palestinian state, not one, because the settlements are illegal and the presence of settlers on occupied lands is illegal,” he was quoted as saying.
When Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip in 2005 as part of its undertakings under the Oslo peace accords, its government uprooted all 9,000 Israelis living there in the process.
Those accords signed in 1993 left the question of Israeli communities in the West Bank unresolved – a matter for later “final status” negotiations.
Every Israeli government since, on the right and left, has indicated that it expects a negotiated final agreement will leave at least major blocs of Israeli settlements intact in the area known by Israelis as Judea and Samaria, the country’s biblical “heartland.”
Netanyahu’s video message tackled the issue in his trademark direct manner, challenging not just Abbas but unnamed foreign governments as well.
“I'm sure many of you have heard the claim that Jewish communities in Judea Samaria – the West Bank – are an obstacle to peace. I’ve always been perplexed by this notion,” he said.
“Because no one would seriously claim that the nearly two million Arabs living inside Israel – that they’re an obstacle to peace. That's because they aren’t – on the contrary.
“Israel’s diversity shows its openness and readiness for peace,” Netanyahu continued. “Yet the Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one pre-condition: No Jews.”
“There’s a phrase for that: It’s called ethnic cleansing. And this demand is outrageous.
“It’s even more outrageous that the world doesn’t find this outrageous,” he said. “Some otherwise enlightened countries even promote this outrage.”
State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau slammed Netanyahu’s comments, calling them “inappropriate and unhelpful.”
“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,” she said.
Trudeau repeated U.S. government policy that ongoing Israeli settlement activity is “an obstacle to peace.”
While she called Netanyahu’s terminology “inappropriate and unhelpful” Trudeau – like Ban Ki-moon on Thursday – did not address the P.A. demands that no Jews be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state. She merely repeated the position that “settlements are a final status issue that must be resolved in negotiations between the parties.”
Trudeau also said the administration was “engaging in direct conversations with the Israeli government” about the comments.
Anne Bayefsky president of Human Rights Voices and director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, called Netanyahu’s ethnic cleansing charge “the quintessential inconvenient truth.”
The State Department went on offense because they have no defense,” she wrote in an op-ed. “Playing the settlements card and advocating for a Jew-free Palestine is not a move to promote peaceful co-existence. It’s an intrinsic part of a 67-year old xenophobic attempt to wipe the only Jewish state off the map.”
-- In a letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in April 2004, President George W. Bush recognized that any final peace agreement with the Palestinians would likely take into account the reality of at least some Jewish communities remaining in place in the West Bank.
“In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949,” Bush wrote.
He added, notably, that “all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.”
“It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities,” said Bush.
The president read out key excerpts of that letter during a joint appearance with Sharon at the White House. The substance of the letter was subsequently endorsed in resolutions by both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.