Israel is actively pushing Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip, asking a number of European and Middle Eastern countries to absorb them and offering to arrange their flights if they agree to emigrate.
The policy was disclosed by a senior official accompanying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a diplomatic visit to Ukraine this week.
The unnamed official told reporters yesterday that Israel is in contact with third countries to see if they would be willing to absorb Palestinians from the besieged enclave, adding that "Israel is even willing to arrange transportation for them, at least to one of the airports in the Negev and arrange for them to travel out of the country".
Israel's National Security Council has been spearheading the initiative, with Netanyahu's blessing, for about a year, the Times of Israel reported, citing the official.
The Israeli daily added that the program has also been discussed several times in Israel's security cabinet.
The official conceded that, thus far, Israel has been unable to find any country willing to cooperate with its initiative, despite speaking to a number of Middle Eastern and European states.
He also claimed that thousands of Gazans are leaving of their own volition, pointing to 35,000 Palestinians who left the Strip in 2018. "That's a pretty high number," the official stated, even claiming that those who remain "are being held hostage in Gaza".
The official, however, failed to mention Israel's now 12-year-old siege of the Strip – which has devastated its infrastructure, economy, health sector and Palestinians' livelihoods – or its three assaults on Gaza in the past decade. The UN has predicted that the Strip will be "unliveable" by 2020, calling the fate of Gaza's some 1.9 million Palestinians into question.
Commentators have slammed the revelation, with Joint List Knesset Member (MK) Yousef Jabareen writing on Twitter: "The country that should welcome Palestinians from Gaza is Israel which, along with its obligation to remove the blockade on Gaza, should respect UN resolutions regarding Palestinian refugees as a part of a just and peaceful solution to the conflict."
The country that should welcome Palestinians from Gaza is Israel which, along with its obligation to remove the blockade on Gaza, should respect UN resolutions regarding Palestinian refugees as a part of a just and peaceful solution to the conflict. pic.twitter.com/5m1OobP5Sw
— Yousef Jabareen (@DrJabareen) August 20, 2019
The policy bears striking resemblance to an idea floated by some of Israel's most extreme right-wing parties, most notably Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power). Last month Otzma launched its campaign for the country's 17 September election by calling for the expulsion of all Palestinians, both from the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The party's leader, Michael Ben Ari, told audiences: "We want to resettle our enemies in their countries […] we'll give them a bottle of mineral water and even a sandwich. We'll find them countries of origin they can go to."
Though the National Security Council's policy makes no pretence about sending Palestinians to their "countries of origin", that it seeks to "encourage" Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip has been seen as evidence of the mainstreaming of this right-wing, anti-Palestinian rhetoric by the Israeli establishment.