The status quo in the West Bank could serve as a model for Israel’s reoccupation of Gaza, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday, urging the government not to rush toward a ceasefire with Hamas, but instead to send ground troops into the Strip to uproot terrorism there.
Asked by American Jewish leaders to explain his demand that Operation Protective Edge end with the Israeli army taking control over the coastal enclave, he referenced the situation in the West Bank before and after Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
“As you remember, in Judea and Samaria, there was a real mess. Before we started Defensive Shield, the situation was a disaster,” he said, referring to a series of suicide bombings and bloody terrorist attacks emanating from the West Bank. At some point, Israel decided to send troops into Palestinian towns to root out terrorist cells there, and the security situation improved greatly, he said.
“After Defensive Shield, we destroyed the entire terrorist infrastructure. And we provided Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] with the ability to take the administration in his hands and to act in Judea and Samaria,” Liberman said. “Now we enjoy security in all of Judea and Samaria.”
As opposed to the status quo in Gaza, in the West Bank, no new terror cells are being created, there are no rockets and there are no tunnels, he said. Abbas understands that the coordination between IDF and his security forces helps him stay in power, the foreign minister added.
This “combination” — Abbas running administrative affairs for Palestinians and Israel having a “free hand” to uproot terrorism – is only one of several plans for a post-invasion Gaza discussed in the security cabinet, Liberman said. He refused to provide any details about the other options.
“From a military point of view, no doubt for us it is not a big challenge to take control of the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Briefing a solidarity mission of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Liberman rejected the idea of speedy ceasefire in Gaza.
“For me it was clear that Hamas would never accept any ceasefire, any truce,” he said, speaking in English. Of course the idea of an end to the hostilities sounds tempting, he added, but history has shown that Hamas uses such ceasefires only to rearm – with ever-improving weaponry.
“During the first [Gaza] operation, Cast Lead, they only had short-range missiles; only Sderot was under rocket fire. During the second operation, Pillar of Defense, missiles reached Rishon Letzion, and they had over 18 [long-range] rockets. Today, they reach Zichron Ya’akov and Hadera, and have more than 300 long-range missiles.”
All of these rockets are produced locally in Gaza, Liberman said. “They don’t anymore need to smuggle their weapons. I think if they achieve this ceasefire it is clear that they will use [the time] to produce more rockets, to dig more tunnels and to prepare themselves for the next clash with Israel.”
Jerusalem is interested in “peaceful coexistence” with the Palestinians, “but it’s clear to everybody that if the end of this operation will be very similar to Pillar of Defense, the next operation, the next clash is only just matter of time — maybe 10 months, maybe 15 months. And then they will have more rockets, more weapons, more drones,” he said. “It’s really for us a crucial time to take crucial decisions.”
Speaking to The Times of Israel, Liberman said that even if reports of Hamas offering a 10-year truce were true, Jerusalem had to make sure that the terrorist organization doesn’t use this time simply to rearm.
“We shouldn’t think about what will be in 10 years, but how we can prevent them from producing and developing their terror infrastructure,” he said. “If there is no way to prevent them from developing this infrastructure, if they will use these 10 years to build more and more missiles and drones, what will we have gained?”
According to unconfirmed reports in the Israeli media based on a senior Palestinian source, Hamas has offered a ten-year ceasefire in exchange for several Israeli, Egyptian and international concessions.
Hamas’s first condition reportedly was that the IDF withdraw its tanks further into Israel, allowing Palestinian farmers access to land close to the Gaza-Israel border. The terror group also called for the release of all prisoners arrested as part of Operation Brother’s Keeper, following the June 12 abduction and murder of three Israeli teens.
Hamas further demanded the blockade of Gaza be lifted on all its borders. The Rafah crossing must be opened and placed under UN control, and an airport and sea port must be established under UN supervision, Hamas reportedly demanded. The list of demands further called on Israel to ease the restrictions for Palestinians seeking to pray on the Temple Mount.