Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Friday called on Israeli officials to “cool down” on plans for imposing sovereignty in the West Bank and building in the settlements, in comments that seemed to be directed at his colleagues in the government.
“We cannot progress without understandings with the US, regarding construction as well as regarding imposing sovereignty, and therefore I suggest that everyone cool down,” Liberman told Channel 2 TV from Munich, where he is attending an international security conference.
“Regarding annexation and building in Judea and Samaria, we’d better understand well that this is not something achieved by declarations or attempts to make short-term electoral gains,” the minister said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.
His comments were apparently mainly directed at Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, who has been championing demands for Israel to annex settlement blocs and large parts of the West Bank.
Progress on such issues “will first of all be a result or a function of our understandings with the US. If somebody thinks you can impose Israeli sovereignty on the entirety of Judea and Samaria, or in the blocs, or build [settlement homes] without limitation with no understandings with the White House, they’re wrong,” Liberman said.
On Wednesday at the White House, US President Donald Trump told visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
Liberman also referred to comments by Trump on Wednesday, in which the US president said Washington would not try to enforce a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and would be happy with either a one-state or two-state solution. The president’s remarks appeared to break with long-standing US support for a resolution to the conflict that resulted in the creation of a Palestinian state.
The defense minister said “we need Israel as a Jewish state, and not a binational state.”
“In my opinion we need to separate from the Palestinians, also those who live in Wadi Ara (a largely Arab populated area in the Haifa district of northern Israel). There is no reason for us to agree to a Palestinian state with not one Jew, judenrein, while we become a country with a more than 20 percent Arab population,” he said.
In the past, the defense minister has often proposed a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict in which the two sides would carry out “population exchanges.” The defense minister has been often criticized by the opposition for his suspicious attitude toward Israel’s Arab citizenry.
Commenting on a recent claim by Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi, who said that if Israel is “going for a one-state solution, I will be prime minister,” Liberman expressed the hope that Tibi “will be a member of parliament in Ramallah; there is nothing for him the Israeli parliament.”
Asked about the assessment by some government officials that another conflict may be brewing with Hamas in Gaza, Liberman repeated an earlier statement that Israel “has no intention of initiating a military confrontation, either in the south or in the north.”
“But,” he added, “we will respond to every provocation with force, and each time with more force. This is why the message is being received, in Gaza as well as in the north,” Liberman said, referring to the Shiite terror group Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon and is fighting for Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria.
Liberman said Israel was making “every effort” to get back the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed in the fighting in Gaza in 2014, but warned the country would “not be dragged into any public discussion with Hamas or others on this issue.”