Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday called on residents of the Gaza Strip to begin a direct dialogue with Israel as a path toward improving their lives, telling them, in Arabic, “Let’s talk.”
Liberman’s comments were posted on the new Arabic, Hebrew and English website of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry body that acts as liaison between Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Stressing that Israel was not to blame for the terrible conditions Gazans lived under, Liberman said there was no reason for the situation to remain as it is.
“The moment Hamas gives up on tunnels and rockets, we will be the first ones to invest and build [Gaza’s residents] a seaport, an airport, and industrial zones by the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings,” he said. “We are able to immediately create about 40,000 jobs for the residents of Gaza.”
But, he cautioned, Israel would only invest in the Gazan economy and job market once Hamas gives up on the clause in its covenant that states the terror group’s goal is to “destroy the State of Israel.”
The organization would have to agree to give up on cross-border terror tunnels, give up on rockets, “and of course, and this is the first and most important step, [facilitate] the return of the bodies of our soldiers and the citizens who are held captive by Hamas,” Liberman said.
Hamas is believed to be holding hostage three Israeli men who crossed into Gaza of their own accord — Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, whose presence in Gaza is unconfirmed. It also holds the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who the army determined were killed in action in the 2014 Gaza war.
Gaza terrorists have dug dozens of tunnels, many reaching across the border into Israel, to launch attacks in the Jewish state. Israel destroyed many of them during its 2014 war with Hamas, but the Strip’s Islamist rulers have since been rebuilding the network.
Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on Gaza in an attempt to stop the smuggling of arms and ammunition.
The defense minister said the aim of the new website was to open a direct channel of communication with the residents of Gaza.
“We want direct dialogue with the Palestinian public,” said Liberman, “not through intermediaries, nor through the media, which is generally not sympathetic to Israel’s positions and views.”
He promised that he would personally be available to answer questions from Gazans via the site. “I’m prepared to speak with them directly through live stream, to receive questions from them and to answer their questions,” he said.
The minister also praised the website as a reliable way for Palestinians to receive accurate information.
He said that the path to peace was through building mutual trust, developing economic relations and improving the lives of the Palestinians. He recalled former prime minister Ariel Sharon once telling him that “One day, the Gaza Strip will turn into the Singapore of the Middle East,” and promised that Israel was looking forward to playing a role in making that happen.
Commenting on the recent rocket fire from Gaza and Israel’s response, the defense minister said that Israel has no interest in beginning any new military action involving the coastal enclave. However, Liberman said, “any provocation will be met with a powerful response. I make an effort to run defense affairs with strength, responsibility, and discretion.”