Thousands of Israelis accompanied by ministers demand settlements in Gaza

Thousands of Israelis, accompanied by ministers, demand settlements in Gaza

Members of Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and other ministers attended a rally on Sunday calling for settlement relocations.

Several thousand Israelis who support the restoration of settlements in the Gaza Strip, including ministers, gathered in Jerusalem on Sunday evening and called on the prime minister to push through the project.

Members of Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and other far-right ministers attended the rally as fighting intensified between the Israeli army and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza. “It is time to return to Gush Katif and promote voluntary emigration,” National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said, referring to a group of Israeli settlements once established in Gaza.

“Encourage” the exodus of Gazans

“Withdrawal brings war, and if we no longer want October 7, we must return home, control the territory and (…) encourage the 'voluntary' departure of Gazans,” he added. According to organizers, 11 other ministers were present at the meeting, which took place in a packed Jerusalem conference center. Speakers called for the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza and believed that restoring settlements was the only way to ensure Israel's security.

Others chanted “The Oslo Accords are dead, the people of Israel are alive,” referring to the agreements that were intended to lead to peaceful coexistence between the two peoples and were ratified in 1993 by PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in White House in front of American President Bill Clinton. The gathering shows that an extremist fringe group, long a minority in Israel, is now gaining ground, even at the risk of deepening differences between Israel and its American ally.

Since the 1967 war, Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, around 400,000 Israelis live in the West Bank in settlements considered illegal by the majority of the international community, along with three million Palestinians. Israel, on the other hand, withdrew its citizens from 21 colonies established in the Gaza Strip in 2005. The area is home to 2.4 million Palestinians, the vast majority of whom have been displaced since fighting began in October.

“Not a realistic goal”

Israel's prime minister has never supported the plan to revitalize Gaza's settlements, saying the project is “not a realistic goal.” He has never organized a meeting of his government dedicated to the “day after” the war. The trigger was the unprecedented attack by Hamas on October 7, which, according to an AFP count based on official figures, led to the deaths of around 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians.

In response, Israel vowed to “destroy” the Islamist movement, which it, like the United States and the European Union, classifies as terrorist, and launched a huge military operation in Gaza that left 26,422 dead, the vast majority of them women. Children and young people, according to the latest report from the Hamas Ministry of Health on Sunday. The Netanyahu government is the most religious and ultra-nationalist in the country's history. Since coming to power at the end of 2022, he has made settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank a priority.

But his policies are openly at odds with the approach of the United States, Israel's staunch ally. Earlier this year, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is also leader of the far-right, pro-settler Jewish Force party, called for a post-war return of settlers to Gaza, a day after a similar call by another far-right minister, that of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller called her comments “irresponsible.”