Palestinian official rejects Israeli minister's move on West Bank settlements

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich

By Ali Sawafta

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A senior Palestinian official rejected on Friday a move by Israel's finance minister intended to promote new Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, saying it was aimed at pursuing a "war of genocide" against Palestinians.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Thursday the Israeli government would also take punitive steps against the Palestinian Authority in response to Palestinian moves against Israel internationally.

Asked about Smotrich's statement, which was not confirmed by the government, Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said the settlements were "illegal colonies that violate all international resolutions".

"The decisions by the occupation government aim to pursue the war of genocide against our Palestinian people," he told Reuters.

He said the PLO and the Palestinian Authority would continue to press for Israel to be taken before international courts and punished for "crimes against our people, and in particular in the Gaza Strip."

Israel has rejected accusations brought by South Africa at the U.N.'s top court that its military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide campaign against Palestinians.

Israel launched its Gaza offensive in retaliation for the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel last Oct. 7 in which about 1,200 people were killed and over 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. The Gaza health ministry says over 37,000 people have been killed in Israel's offensive.

Smotrich, who heads a pro-settler party, said the government supported his proposal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, which usually announces cabinet-level decisions, issued no statement and could not be reached for immediate comment.

Steps which Smotrich said he was advancing included revoking "various approvals and benefits" for senior officials in the Palestinian Authority, approving new settlements and retroactively sanctioning some Jewish settlements.

The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule under 1990s interim peace deals in the West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Palestinians and most of the international community regard Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal. Israel disputes this, citing the Jewish people's historical, biblical and political links to the area as well as security considerations.

(Writing by Emily Rose, Editing by Timothy Heritage)