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Gaza demilitarization demand unrealistic, FM admits

But Israel should continue to stress the point so the idea becomes accepted by the world, Liberman says

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaking at a meeting in the Knesset to discuss Operation Protective Edge, on August 4, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaking at a meeting in the Knesset to discuss Operation Protective Edge, on August 4, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

The Israeli insistence on linking the rehabilitation of Gaza to the demilitarization of Hamas is unrealistic at this point, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday, adding that Jerusalem should still continue to call for it in order to anchor this demand in the international consciousness.

“I welcome the idea of demilitarization in exchange for rehabilitation, even though not everyone agrees with it, even in the West,” he said during a briefing to Israel’s diplomatic correspondents. Asked whether this formula, proposed by Israel and endorsed by some in the international community, was realistic, the foreign minister replied that if Israel doesn’t do it, no one is going to actively rid Hamas of its weapons. “It’s not realistic but it is still important to talk about this narrative, to get it in people’s consciousness.”

No novel political idea gets implemented right away, Liberman said, but if it’s repeated often enough, the world will start internalizing it. Just as the Palestinians succeeded in convincing the world that they deserve a state based on the 1967 lines by repeating this demand, Israel should also reiterate the idea of a demilitarized Gaza, hoping that one day this requirement will be accepted by all, he said. “We must not give up on the narrative of a demilitarized Gaza Strip.”

Liberman said he would discuss the international community’s efforts to help rebuild Gaza, which was badly devastated during this summer’s Operation Protective Edge, with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, who is currently in Jerusalem.

However, Liberman said that he does not view as realistic an international conference to discuss the “rehabilitation in exchange for demilitarization” formula that would be attended by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and moderate Arab states including Saudi Arabia, as proposed by Finance Minister Yair Lapid. “Over the last few years, I met with countless Arab officials,” Liberman said, noting that they are not “psychologically ready” to publicly acknowledge ties with Israel.

During the briefing, Liberman said that Hamas is “no less dangerous than ISIS,” the radical Sunni terrorist group now known as Islamic State. He also suggested that Hamas top military commander Muhammad Deif is dead. “If until today we haven’t heard his voice on a tape and we haven’t seen any sign of life from him, there is room for optimism,” he said.

A digger removes the cement and debris on August 20, 2014, of a home destroyed the night before in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City's Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, which killed the wife and two children of elusive Hamas military chief Muhammad Deif, the Islamist group said. (photo credit: AFP/Mohammed Abed)
A digger removes the cement and debris on August 20, 2014, of a home destroyed the night before in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, which killed the wife and two children of elusive Hamas military chief Muhammad Deif, the Islamist group said. (photo credit: AFP/Mohammed Abed)

Last month, Israel tried to assassinate Deif through an airstrike that killed his wife and son, but it remains unclear whether Deif himself was hit.

The foreign minister further said that he opposed new elections at this point in time, despite being unhappy with the current coalition. “New election are superfluous. The entire Middle East is going through an unprecedented period of turmoil, and no one knows how it’s going to end. The last thing we need to is to add political turmoil in Israel, both within the coalition or by going to elections.”

Liberman refrained from commenting on his differences of opinion with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government ministers, but said that if the current government falls it would not be over questions of war and peace or the Palestinian issue, but rather over religion and state issues.

On Saturday, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, a member of Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, predicted that the foreign minister would become Israel’s next prime minister.

Liberman again dismissed hopes of reaching a permanent peace agreement with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, saying that the Palestinian leader lacked the legitimacy to sign treaties on behalf of his people. “Without new elections [in the PA] we must not engage in any major long-term processes” with the Palestinians, he said, because whoever succeeds Abbas could easily say that any agreement he signed with Israel was void because he had no democratic legitimacy, Liberman said.

Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians should not be seen as a bilateral affair, but rather as a regional problem that can only be solved in a comprehensive “package deal” with the PA, the wider Arab world and Israeli Arabs, Liberman said.

The foreign minister also said that Abbas on Sunday threatened to disband the unity government with Hamas because of the terrorist group’s attempt to overthrow his rule in the West Bank.

“This stems from facts that Shin Bet showed Abbas inidcathat Hamas wanted to take over in Judea and Samaria,” he said, using the West Bank’s biblical names. “That is something of a break that can’t be fixed. That wasn’t talks and rumors — the Shin Bet presented him with hard facts that left no room for doubt.”

Last month, the Shin Bet security service said it arrested more than 90 Hamas operatives in May and June, confiscated dozens of weapons that had been smuggled into the West Bank, and seized more than $170,000 aimed at funding attacks. It produced photos of the confiscated weapons and cash and a flowchart of the Hamas operatives who had been questioned, and said they planned a series of massive attacks on Israeli targets, including the Temple Mount, in order to start a widespread conflagration.

At the time, Abbas said the revelation was “a grave threat to the unity of the Palestinian people and its future.”

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