Liberman: Abbas trying to draw Hamas into war with Israel
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Liberman: Abbas trying to draw Hamas into war with Israel

Defense minister says peace with Palestinians will come only as a byproduct of a broader regional agreement

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks at the Herzliya Conference at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, June 22, 2017. (Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks at the Herzliya Conference at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, June 22, 2017. (Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to trigger war between his arch rival Hamas and Israel by cutting off supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Liberman also reiterated his long-held stance that any future peace agreement will need to be based on a “population swap,” and noted that such a deal would only come as a result of broader regional cooperation between Israel and relatively moderate Arab states.

Speaking at an annual regional security conference at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, Liberman predicted that Abbas would apply increasing pressure on Hamas by limiting supplies to the Gaza Strip, in order “to draw it into a war with Israel.”

Abbas has recently increased his efforts to wrest control of Gaza from Hamas, a terror group that has ruled the territory ever since driving out Abbas’s PA forces in a violent coup 10 years ago. The two sides have been at loggerheads ever since.

A recent key development was the PA slashing the amount it pays toward covering Gaza’s electricity bill amid an ongoing power crisis in the Palestinian enclave. At the PA’s request, Israel, which was supplying about 30% of Gaza’s power needs, has begun scaling back electricity. Hamas vowed there would be severe consequences to the move. However, the situation was partially mitigated after Egypt struck a deal with Hamas and agreed to truck in diesel oil to bring Gaza’s sole power station back online.

President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a joint press conference with US President Donald Trump (not seen) at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 23, 2017. (AFP/THOMAS COEX)
President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a joint press conference with US President Donald Trump (not seen) at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 23, 2017. (AFP/THOMAS COEX)

“The situation in Gaza can’t go on forever,” Liberman asserted.

“It is an internal Palestinian crisis that is not going to end. Abbas is going to soon increase the cutbacks, stop paying wages to Gaza [civil servants] and also [cut] the transfer of fuel and medicines as a double strategy: to harm Hamas and pull Hamas into a war with Israel.”

Abbas, he said, was acting unilaterally and without coordination with Israel or Egypt.

Liberman assessed that the reason the Oslo Accords signed 25 years ago failed to bring an end to the conflict with the Palestinians was that they were based on a mistaken principle of land for peace.

“After 25 years we can reach that conclusion,” he said. “It is an erroneous principle that will create asymmetry because it establishes a Palestinian state that is 100 percent Palestinian and a binational State of Israel that has 22% Palestinians.”

Therefore, the guiding principle needs to be population exchange, he said.

Turning to Syrian affairs, Liberman said Israel has been operating in the north only “when there is a ticking bomb that is going to carry out an attack and we act to thwart it. Either when they shoot at us, or when there is the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.”

A Hezbollah fighter is seen standing at attention in an orange field near the town of Naqura on the Lebanese-Israeli border on April 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID)
A Hezbollah fighter is seen standing at attention in an orange field near the town of Naqura on the Lebanese-Israeli border on April 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID)

Israel is alleged to have carried out several airstrikes in Syria in recent years aimed at preventing game-changing advanced weapons from falling into the hands of the Iran-allied Hezbollah terror group, whose forces have fought in Syria on behalf of the regime in its battle to end a six-year insurgency.

“Hezbollah is exploiting the situation in Syria in order to set up a front against us on the Golan and to smuggle in advanced weapons and set up a base across from us,” Liberman said.

“I’m warning the Syrian regime that it will bear responsibility for that. The Damascus international airport cannot be used to smuggle for Hezbollah. When it reaches a certain point we won’t hesitate to act. I hope the US and Russia will reach a good agreement on the Syrian matter, but it won’t impinge on our freedom to act in the north.”

Nonetheless, “We have no intention to go to war — neither in the north nor the south,” he declared.

Touching on the regional cooperation that he, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, insisted must be a prerequisite for a final agreement with the Palestinians, Liberman said ties with moderate Sunni states, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, would generate $45 billion a year in trade.

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