Right-wing Israeli ministers join thousands at event calling for resettlement in Gaza

JERUSALEM – Warnings from the White House – and the UN Supreme Court – appear to have done little to prevent some right-wing ministers in Israel from promoting a vision rejected by the Israeli prime minister: rebuilding Israeli settlements in Gaza after World War II. war.

A number of ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government were among thousands of people who flocked to a conference in Jerusalem on Sunday evening calling for the “resettlement” of Israelis in Gaza, in the presence of right-wing National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and the Finance Minister. Bezalel Smotrich delivers keynote speeches.

The conference, called “Settlement Brings Security,” was led in part by the right-wing organization Nashala, a group calling for the expansion of Jewish settlements, which international and humanitarian bodies consider illegal. The event called on Israel to rebuild settlements in both Gaza and the northern parts of the occupied West Bank.

Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza when it unilaterally withdrew from the Strip in 2005 after 38 years of occupation. This enclave was left under the control of the Palestinian Authority, with Hamas taking control in 2007 following its victory in the 2006 elections and the ensuing brutal power struggle with its main rival, Fatah.

While Netanyahu said that Israel has “no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population,” questions remain about what the future of the Strip will look like once Israel’s war against Hamas ends.

An attendee takes a photo near a map proposing a vision of Israeli settlements in Gaza during the conference in Jerusalem on Sunday.Coby Wolf for NBC News

In the conference entrance hall on Sunday, a huge map outlined what organizers said was their vision for the settlements in Gaza — from the north to the south of the Strip.

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Daniela Weiss, director of Nachala, a well-known leader in the Israeli settler movement, told NBC News that the map envisions a future “in which all [the] The Gaza Strip is part of the State of Israel, of the Land of Israel.”

“After October 7, history changed,” she added, referring to the Hamas attacks that day on Israel, in which about 1,200 people were killed and 260 people were taken hostage in Gaza. “It is the end of the Arab presence in Gaza. It is the end.”

“Instead, there will be many, many Jews who will return to the settlements, and they will build new settlements,” she said.

During the conference, Ben Gvir called on Netanyahu to be “brave,” saying it was time to develop Israeli settlements in Gaza — and “encourage” Palestinians to leave the Strip.

Many families were in the crowd at the conference on Sunday. Coby Wolf for NBC News

Smotrich said he had “mixed feelings” about the event, as Israel is focused on the war against Hamas, but said the country was at a crossroads and that “without a settlement, there is no security.”

Their comments sparked cheers from the roaring audience, with several ministers at one point rising from their front-row seats to join their fellow attendees as they sang and danced.

In addition to Smotrich and Ben Gvir, Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu and Tourism Minister Haim Katz, from Netanyahu's Likud party, were also present at the event, along with a number of other politicians.

Ariel Kalner, left, Shlomo Karhi, Itamar Ben Gvir, Yossi Dagan and Amihai Eliyahu were among the politicians who danced at the conference held in Jerusalem on Sunday.Coby Wolf for NBC News

They participated in the conference after the International Court of Justice on Friday ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent acts of genocide in its attack on Gaza, in which more than 26,000 people were killed and more than 64,000 injured. With thousands more missing and presumed killed, according to Palestinian officials.

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Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Condemned the conference on XSaying that it constitutes a “blatant challenge” to the ruling of the International Court and encourages the forced displacement of Palestinians.

The United Nations Supreme Court did not go so far as to issue a ceasefire order, which was requested by South Africa, the plaintiff in the case.

Inciting speeches issued by prominent figures within the Israeli government played a major role in the case of South Africa, which accuses Israel of committing genocide, which Israel denies.

But on Sunday, Smotrich and Ben Gvir appeared unmoved by the events in The Hague and the recent warning from the Biden administration to put an immediate “pause” on rhetoric calling for “the resettlement of Palestinians outside Gaza.”

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leaves the podium at the conference on Sunday.Coby Wolf for NBC News

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, “This speech is inflammatory and irresponsible.” He said in a statement On January 2, in response to comments made by Smotrich and Ben Gvir.

“The government of Israel has repeatedly informed us, including the prime minister, that such statements do not reflect Israeli government policy,” he said, adding that Smotrich and Ben Gvir should “stop immediately.”

Miller said that the United States was “clear, firm and unequivocal that Gaza is Palestinian land and will remain Palestinian land,” but with Hamas “no longer controlling its future and with no terrorist groups capable of threatening Israel.”

A map showing organizers' views on what resettlement to Gaza might look like at the conference to be held in Jerusalem on Sunday.Coby Wolf for NBC News/Cobie Wolf

Netanyahu's office refused to comment on the presence of the Israeli ministers.

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Since the start of the war, Netanyahu has faced a constant balancing act between trying to maintain support from the Biden administration while also trying to steer the most far-right government in Israel's history after it formed a coalition based on extreme pro-settler politicians.

While thousands of people flocked to Sunday's event, recent polls conducted by Hebrew University in early December found that more than half of Israelis oppose annexing the Gaza Strip and returning settlements that were dismantled during the 2005 Israeli withdrawal, according to The Times of Israel.

A man holds a billboard saying “Only transfer to the Palestinians will bring peace” in Jerusalem on Sunday.Coby Wolf for NBC News

The newspaper reported that in a poll that included more than 1,800 people, 56% of Israelis said they were against this policy, while 33% supported it and 11% were unsure.

Centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid He said on X He said that the participation of Israeli ministers on Sunday represented a “new low” for the Netanyahu government.

He also expressed concerns that the event could harm potential negotiations to reach an agreement to release hostages held in Gaza, as well as Israel's international standing at a time when it continues to face scrutiny over its deadly attack in Gaza.

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