RAMALLAH: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said the remarks by a key Cabinet ally calling for a Palestinian town to be erased were inappropriate, after the US demanded that he reject the statement.
In a Twitter thread posted in English shortly after midnight, Netanyahu did not appear to condemn the remarks outright and implied that the ally, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, misspoke.
Netanyahu thanked Smotrich for later walking the comments back and “making clear that his choice of words” was “inappropriate.” The bulk of the thread urged the international community to seek condemnations from the Palestinians over attacks against Israelis.
It appeared to be his first public response to Smotrich’s remarks since they were made on Wednesday.
Netanyahu’s Twitter thread underlines how the Israeli leader has had to balance the ideologies of the far-right members of his government with the expectations of Isael’s chief ally, the US. Smotrich is the head of one of several ultranationalist parties that help make up Netanyahu’s government, Israel’s most right-wing ever.
Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank last week rampaged through the Palestinian town of Hawara, where earlier in the day two Israeli brothers were killed in a Palestinian shooting attack. Later in the week, Smotrich said the town should be erased — by Israeli forces and not by private citizens.
Smotrich later backtracked, saying he didn’t mean for Hawara to be erased but for Israel to operate surgically within it against Palestinian militants. Still, his earlier comments sparked an international outcry.
The US called them repugnant and urged Netanyahu to “publicly and clearly reject and disavow them.” The UN, Egypt and Saudi Arabia also condemned Smotrich’s remarks.
In a Hebrew tweet posted around the same time as his English thread, Netanyahu said even foreign diplomats make mistakes, an apparent reference to a report by Israeli Channel 12 that US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides made disparaging remarks about Smotrich ahead of his visit to Washington this week, saying he would “throw him off the plane,” if he could. The US Embassy denied the ambassador had made the remarks.
The White House said Smotrich would not be meeting any US government officials during the upcoming trip.
Meanwhile, thousands of Israelis in Tel Aviv continued for a ninth consecutive week to protest government legal reforms critics see as threatening democracy.
Protests also occurred in Jerusalem and Karmiel near Haifa.
Judicial reform is a cornerstone of Netanyahu’s latest administration, an alliance with ultra-Orthodox and extreme-right parties which took office in late December.