Middle East

UN's Ban: Netanyahu ethnic cleansing remarks 'outrageous'

Benjamin Netanyahu appears in a video published on Facebook Image copyright Benjamin Netanyahu
Image caption Benjamin Netanyahu criticised people who described settlements as an obstacle to peace

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has criticised Israel's prime minister for saying Palestinians want the "ethnic cleansing" of Jews in the West Bank.

Benjamin Netanyahu's use of the term in a video attacking opponents of Jewish settlement construction on occupied territory was "outrageous", he said.

Mr Ban stressed that settlements were illegal under international law.

He also said he was appalled by the continued "glorification of terror" by Palestinian parties.

They were choosing to "praise despicable acts", such as the massacre of Israeli athletes by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Olympics, the UN chief noted.

Mr Ban also denounced rocket and mortar attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, the most recent of which saw Israel launch missiles at targets in the territory in response overnight.

Last Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu published a video in English on his Facebook page in which he criticised people who described settlements as an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.

"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. 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."

About 570,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Mr Netanyahu called the demand that they leave "outrageous".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ban Ki-moon said settlements were illegal under international law - an assertion Israel rejects

Speaking before the UN Security Council on Thursday, Mr Ban criticised the remarks and insisted Israel's settlement policy was "diametrically opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state".

"I am disturbed by a recent statement by Israel's prime minister portraying those who oppose settlement expansion as supporters of ethnic cleansing," he said. "This is unacceptable and outrageous.

"Let me be absolutely clear: settlements are illegal under international law. The occupation, stifling and oppressive, must end."

Israel rejects the assertion that the settlements are illegal, and over the past two weeks has advanced plans for another 463 housing units at four locations.

On Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas responded to Mr Netanyahu's video by accusing Israel's government of itself "carrying out ethnic cleansing and deliberately killing - acts that have exposed it to international criticism all over the world".

"We are not isolated, like the Israeli government is trying to present us. The government of Israel is actually the isolated one on the international stage because it isn't interested in continuing on the path of peace, continues the settlement industry and damages the holy sites," he added.