GGOP candidates Ron DeSantis & Nikki Haley
GGOP candidates Ron DeSantis & Nikki HaleyChip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that if Israel were faced with a “second Holocaust,” he could understand why it would remove Gazan civilians from the Gaza Strip.

The statement came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel has no intention of doing so.

DeSantis’ remarks at a Republican presidential debate on Wednesday came on the eve of opening arguments at The Hague, where Israel faces claims of "genocide" at the International Court of Justice. The debate was the final one ahead of the Iowa Republican caucuses on Monday — the first contest in the Republican presidential primary.

Jake Tapper, the CNN moderator, asked DeSantis if he supports Israeli cabinet ministers who are “pushing for the mass removal of Palestinians from Gaza,” noting that his rival on the debate stage at Drake University in DesMoines, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, does not support mass removal.

“As President I am not going to tell them to do that, I think there’s a lot of issues with that,” DeSantis said. “But if they make the calculation that to avert a second Holocaust, they need to do that — I think some of these Palestinian Arabs, Saudi Arabia should take some, Egypt should take some.”

Just hours earlier, Netanyahu in a short video posted on social media in English said Israel had no plans to remove Palestinians or to permanently reoccupy the Gaza Strip.

“I want to make a few points absolutely clear: Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population,” Netanyahu said. “Israel is fighting Hamas terrorists, not the Palestinian population, and we are doing so in full compliance with international law.”

Netanyahu’s remarks came after weeks of pressure from the Biden administration to explicitly contradict the statements of ministers, who have called for the removal of Palestinians in the wake of the war launched with Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion of Israel.

Haley and DeSantis are vying for the second place spot behind former President Donald Trump, who still maintains substantial lead just days ahead of the Iowa caucuses. Trump snubbed the debate, a way to broadcast his consistent lead in the polling.

Republican Jewish donors who oppose Trump have lined up behind Haley as her polling has improved, and as DeSantis’s polling numbers have cratered.

Haley touted her record as Trump’s envoy to the United Nations in defending Israel, and took DeSantis to task for making Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie a lead campaign surrogate; Massie is the only Republican who consistently votes against pro-Israel resolutions in Congress.

“We need to understand: the reason we need to support Israel is Israel is a bright spot in a tough neighborhood,” she said. “They are the tip of the spear when it comes to defeating terrorism. It has never been that Israel needs America. It has always been that America needs Israel. When I was at the United Nations, I fought every day for Israel.”