Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparked outrage and condemnation on Friday after he displayed a map of the “new Middle East” that erased Palestine from the region during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
The map, which showed Israel’s borders extending over the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, was part of Netanyahu’s attempt to promote the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, which he said was “on the cusp” of a historic peace deal with Israel.
Netanyahu claimed that the Abraham Accords, which were brokered by former US President Donald Trump and established diplomatic ties between Israel and four Arab states – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan – had heralded a “new dawn of peace” in the region.
He also accused Iran of being the main source of instability and aggression in the Middle East, and urged the international community to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to stop its support for militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
However, Netanyahu‘s speech was met with scorn and anger by Palestinians and their supporters, who denounced his map as a blatant expression of Israel’s colonial and apartheid policies that aim to erase the existence and rights of the Palestinian people
Palestinian officials said that Netanyahu’s map was a clear violation of international law and UN resolutions, which recognize Palestine as a state on the basis of the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
They also said that Netanyahu’s map contradicted his own claim that he supported a two-state solution to the conflict, and exposed his true intention to annex the Palestinian territories and deny them their right to self-determination.
“Netanyahu made clear with his little map today what normalization really seeks: eliminating Palestine… from the region and legitimizing greater Israel, all with the blessing of Arab regimes,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian diplomat and activist.
Ashrawi added that Netanyahu’s speech was full of “lies, distortions and threats” that reflected his “arrogance and contempt” for international law and human rights.
Human rights groups also slammed Netanyahu’s map as a sign of Israel’s expansionist and racist agenda, which has led to the displacement, oppression and killing of millions of Palestinians since 1948.
They said that Israel’s normalization deals with Arab countries had not brought any benefits or justice to the Palestinians, but rather had emboldened Israel to continue its illegal occupation, settlement expansion, land confiscation, home demolitions, arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings and siege of Gaza.
“Netanyahu’s map is a visual representation of Israel’s decades-long policy of erasing Palestine and Palestinians from their homeland,” said Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s director for Israel and Palestine.
Shakir added that Israel’s normalization partners should use their leverage to pressure Israel to end its violations of Palestinian rights and to support international accountability measures against its crimes.
Meanwhile, some Israeli politicians and analysts criticized Netanyahu’s map as a diplomatic blunder that could harm Israel’s interests and image in the world.
They said that Netanyahu’s map could alienate potential allies in the region who still support the Palestinian cause, such as Jordan and Egypt, as well as undermine Israel’s credibility in future negotiations with the Palestinians.
They also questioned Netanyahu’s assertion that Saudi Arabia was ready to normalize relations with Israel, saying that Riyadh had not given any clear indication or commitment to do so.
“Saudi Arabia is not on board. It is not even close to being on board,” said Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist for Haaretz newspaper. “Netanyahu is either delusional or lying.”
Pfeffer added that Netanyahu’s map was a “cheap stunt” that would not impress anyone at the UN or in the region.