Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a controversial map during his speech at the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Friday, sparking outrage and renewed tensions in the region.
The map appeared to erase the existence of Palestine, presenting a vision of a “new Middle East” in which the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were depicted as integral parts of Israel.
This wasn’t the first time Netanyahu had used such a map; an earlier version included Palestinian territories as part of Israel in 1948, despite the fact that Israel did not exercise control over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, or the Gaza Strip at that time.
These areas were occupied by Israel in 1967, a situation that persists and is often described as the longest occupation in modern history.
The portrayal of Palestinian lands, and at times territories belonging to Syria and Lebanon, in Israeli maps, is a recurring practice among supporters of the concept of Eretz Yisrael, or Greater Israel, which is a central tenet of ultra-nationalist Zionism. This ideology lays claim to all these lands for a Zionist state.
Earlier this year, Netanyahu’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, added fuel to the fire by speaking from a podium adorned cipf-es.org with a map that similarly included Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria as part of Greater Israel. Smotrich even controversially stated that there was “no such thing as Palestinians.”
This map presentation by Israeli officials comes at a time when Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist government has been criticized for taking steps that experts argue amount to the “de jure annexation” of the occupied West Bank.
During his speech, Netanyahu energetically advocated for reshaping the region by establishing ties with Arab nations, with a particular focus on Saudi Arabia.
He asserted that the Abraham Accords had ushered in a new era of peace and suggested that a historic peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia was on the horizon.
These remarks coincided with ongoing US-sponsored talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia aimed at formalizing their relations.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hinted at progress, noting that they were moving closer to such an agreement each day.
Netanyahu stressed during his UNGA speech that “we must not give the Palestinians a veto over new peace treaties with Arab states.”
However, his remarks were met with criticism, and they came just a day after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UNGA.
Abbas emphasized that Middle East peace could only be achieved when Palestinians were granted full rights and statehood, warning that those who believed otherwise were mistaken.