Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday that Israel would benefit from putting together a West Bank settlement construction policy together with the incoming US administration rather than continuing efforts to establish facts on the ground by itself.
During a visit to the port city of Ashdod the minister also warned that the caustic rhetoric between coalition members over Amona, a controversial West Bank settlement outpost slated for demolition, could threaten the government.
A day after indicating he supported a moratorium on building in outlying settlements, Liberman doubled down on his position, and continued to take fire from the right for it.
His statements on settlement policy drew condemnations from the national-religious Jewish Home party, a staunch supporter of Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Liberman, no dove himself, insisted that he wasn’t looking to reach a deal with the US trading building in settlement blocs for a freeze elsewhere, but said Jerusalem should still coordinate its policies with the new administration being brought in by US President-elect Donald Trump.
“I am not suggesting any deal to the Americans,” he said. “Instead of trying to establish facts on the ground we need to try to put together a joint policy.”
During a briefing to reporters on Wednesday, Liberman, who himself lives in the outlying settlement of Nokdim southeast of Jerusalem, said he was ready to freeze building outside the blocs in exchange for an agreement with the incoming Trump administration to expand settlement building in Efrat, Ma’ale Adumim and other areas widely expected to remain under Israeli sovereignty in the event of a future peace deal.
Liberman in his remarks cited a 2004 letter sent by then-president George W. Bush to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, in which the United States acknowledged that the settlement blocs will remain under Israeli sovereignty in a future peace agreement.
Trump is expected by many Israeli officials to be more sympathetic to Israel than the previous administration.
“If we get permission by the administration to act according to the Bush-Sharon formula, we have to grab it with both hands,” Liberman said, even if that meant accepting a freeze for building outside the blocs. “It is clear that we won’t build outside the blocs.”
The comment drew fire from the right wing, including Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), who accused Liberman of “living in the past” and damaging the government.
“It is damaging also to rightful Israeli governance, the long-term interests of Israel, and also the the expected relations with the elected [US] government,” she told Army Radio Thursday morning.
The defense minister dismissed Hotovely as a nonentity.
“If Hotovely doesn’t attack me no one will know she exists,” Liberman said. “I accept her attack as a sign that I am right.”
Liberman also indicated that a bill moving through the Knesset which would allow Israel to legalize unauthorized building on private Palestinian land would not save the Amona outpost and said it was a ploy being used by lawmakers to win support from settlers.
“all the competing in the right wing, that is what causes damage — I call for responsibility and not belligerence, which could bring down the government,” Liberman warned.
The so-called Regulation Bill, designed to avert the court-ordered demolition of the West Bank outpost of Amona by December 25, passed its initial reading on Wednesday, despite repeated statements from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that the legislation runs contrary to international law and would be indefensible in the High Court of Justice
“I regret that there are people who trying to mislead the settlers and raise expectations,” Liberman said. “I wish a solution would be found. We need to look for solutions up until the last minute, but it could be that it won’t help.”
The Jewish Home party, which has pushed for the legislation, responded by accusing Liberman of being all talk and no action.
He’s a relentless chatterbox,” the party said in a statement, according to Hebrew media reports. “He should focus on assassinating [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyeh instead of offering to set up a Palestinian state alongside Route 6.”
The comment was a reference to a pledge Liberman made before entering office that he would kill the Hamas leader 48 hours after the first rocket hit Israel from the Gaza Strip, and to the close proximity of the West Bank to a major Israeli highway.