Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he would like to see all of Israel’s “Palestinian” citizens relocate to the Palestinian territories and become citizens there, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at his meeting on Wednesday with Donald Trump, should coordinate with the new US president on expanding Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 news, Liberman, asked about the two-state solution and his political program, said that his prime concern, when seeking to solve the conflict with the Palestinians, is to ensure the maintenance of Israel as a Jewish state.
“I want a Jewish state. Just as the Palestinians want a homogeneous Palestinian state, without a single Jew in it, judenrein, so I first and foremost want as Jewish a state [of Israel] as possible.”
Liberman reiterated his long-held conviction that the “land for peace” equation “has failed, and is a giant mistake” and that what is needed for an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation is “exchanges of territory and populations.” (A little over a fifth of Israel’s 8.6 million citizens are Arabs.)
“I want to separate from all the Palestinians who live here inside pre-1967 [Israel],” he declared in the (Hebrew) interview. “With my blessing: You are Palestinians, you should go to [live under the rule of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen. You’ll be citizens of the Palestinian Authority. He’ll pay you unemployment benefits, health benefits, maternity benefits, hanging around benefits.”
Rather than unilaterally annexing Israeli settlements and other parts of the West Bank as advocated by his coalition rivals from the Jewish Home party, however, Israel Beytenu head Liberman urged Netanyahu to work for “an agreement” with the Trump administration on “the question of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.”
Israel’s capacity to assert permanent control in areas of Judea and Samaria “does not depend on Israeli legislation, but on agreement with the United States,” he said, cautioning against uncoordinated Israeli activity leading to arguments with the new administration over settlements just as there had been arguments with the previous Obama administration.
At the same time, Liberman proudly noted that he recently approved construction of 5,500 new settlement homes — 65% of which were for immediate construction, he said. “That can’t be reversed,” he said. “That’s unstoppable.”
In an interview with Hebrew daily Israel Hayom published Friday, President Trump startled the Israeli right by expressing profound reservations over the settlement enterprise. In the interview — his first with the Israeli media since being sworn in as president on January 20 — Trump declared: “Every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left… I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”
A settler himself, from Nokdim southeast of Jerusalem, Liberman said the newly passed Regulation Law, which he opposed but had to support because of coalition discipline, “harms the settlements.” He has previously said there is “a 100 chance” that the law, which seeks to retroactively legalize settlement outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land, will be struck down on appeal by the Israeli High Court. “This law misleads the residents of Judea and Samaria,” he said Saturday.
Dealing more broadly with Netanyahu’s upcoming talks with Trump, Liberman said that their agenda should be headed by the challenge posed to Israel by Iran. “The greatest threat to Israel is Iran, Iran and Iran,” he said. “Iran with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, Iran financing Hezbollah [in Lebanon] with a billion dollars a year and supplying all its weapons and military advisers, Iran bolstering and funding Hamas and Islamic Jihad [in Gaza].”