In apparent split with PM, Liberman calls for moving Arab Israelis to future Palestinian state
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In apparent split with PM, Liberman calls for moving Arab Israelis to future Palestinian state

Israel must support its troops regardless of any mistakes they make, defense minister says in reference to soldier on trial for killing disarmed attacker

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks at Ariel University in the northern West Bank on September 12, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks at Ariel University in the northern West Bank on September 12, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called Monday for the transfer of some of Israel’s Arab population to a future Palestinian state as part of any peace plan, in an apparent split with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who last week claimed “no one would seriously” consider such a move.

“I don’t see a reason why the ‘Triangle’ [a predominantly Arab region of northern Israel] and Umm al-Fahm need to be a part of Israel,” Liberman said, during a question and answer session at Ariel University in the West Bank.

While the defense minister said he was in favor of “swapping lands and populations” as part of a future peace deal with Palestinians, he appeared to be speaking specifically about transferring entirely Arab cities and their populations to a future Palestinian state, and not necessarily expelling Arab Israelis who live in predominantly Jewish municipalities, as some other hawkish Israeli politicians have encouraged.

The defense minister claimed that the country’s Arab population “demand more and more autonomy,” and identified less as Israelis and more as Palestinians.

Liberman also said he did not see why Israeli citizens needed to pay the salaries of Arab Knesset members Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka when they regularly spoke out against the country, a remark which drew considerable applause from the audience.

This “lands and populations” transfer was not a new position for Liberman. It has been a central aspect of his peace plan since 2004, but Monday marks the first time he publicly stated the belief since becoming defense minister in May.

Hanin Zoabi of the Joint (Arab) List in the Knesset on December 22, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hanin Zoabi of the Joint (Arab) List in the Knesset on December 22, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman’s remarks also came just a few days after Netanyahu released a video claiming Palestinian leaders called for the “ethnic cleansing” of the West Bank as a condition for peace — a claim Liberman reiterated.

However, Netanyahu said Israel had no such intention of doing the same with its own Arab population.

I'm sure many of you have heard the claim that Jewish communities in Judea Samaria, the West Bank, are an obstacle to peace.I've always been perplexed by this notion.Because no one would seriously claim that the nearly two million Arabs living inside Israel – that they're an obstacle to peace. That's because they aren't. On the contrary.Israel's diversity shows its openness and readiness for peace. Yet the Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one pre-condition: No Jews.There's a phrase for that: It's called ethnic cleansing.And this demand is outrageous.It's even more outrageous that the world doesn't find this outrageous. Some otherwise enlightened countries even promote this outrage.Ask yourself this: Would you accept ethnic cleansing in your state? A territory without Jews, without Hispanics, without blacks?Since when is bigotry a foundation for peace?At this moment, Jewish schoolchildren in Judea Samaria are playing in sandboxes with their friends.Does their presence make peace impossible?I don’t think so.I think what makes peace impossible is intolerance of others. Societies that respect all people are the ones that pursue peace. Societies that demand ethnic cleansing don't pursue peace.I envision a Middle East where young Arabs and young Jews learn together, work together, live together side by side in peace.Our region needs more tolerance, not less.So the next time you hear someone say Jews can't live somewhere, let alone in their ancestral homeland, take a moment to think of the implications.Ethnic cleansing for peace is absurd.It's about time somebody said it.I just did.

Posted by ‎Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו‎ on Friday, 9 September 2016

“No one would seriously claim that the nearly two million Arabs living inside Israel, that they’re an obstacle to peace. That’s because they aren’t,” Netanyahu said in the video posted Friday on his Facebook page.

Liberman’s comments seemed to run counter to claims made by the prime minister in the video.

The defense minister on Monday also discussed the trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, an IDF soldier accused of manslaughter for shooting dead a supine, disarmed Palestinian assailant in Hebron in March.

Israel must support its soldiers under any circumstances, “even if one of them makes a mistake,” he said, referring specifically to Azaria’s case.

At the end of the day, Liberman stressed, “we are talking about 18-, 19-year-olds.”

Elor Azaria, center, during a hearing in his manslaughter trial at a military court in Jaffa, August 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Elor Azaria, center, during a hearing in his manslaughter trial at a military court in Jaffa, August 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Liberman, who prior to becoming defense minister, vocally supported Azaria, has dialed back his rhetoric since taking the position.

“We should remember, all of us, including members of the media, public figures and politicians, that until you are convicted in court, you are innocent,” he said.

This is especially true when you are dealing with soldiers who are on a mission, Liberman said.

The trial of Azaria has gripped many in Israel for months, with predominantly right-wing supporters of the soldier calling him a “hero,” while detractors claim the shooting was an extrajudicial execution.

The defense minister said he expects that the military court trying Azaria to “ignore the noise from the left and from the right,” when it hands down its decision.

Regardless, Liberman said, attacks against the military itself should be considered out of bounds in the public discourse.

“If someone has an issue with the army, they need to turn to the defense minister. We need to leave the army out of political arguments,” he said.

“We can’t attack those in uniform, even when we disagree with them,” Liberman said.

The defense minister also reiterated his stance that Israel would have to evacuate the Amona outpost in the West Bank, home to some 40 families, since it was largely constructed on privately owned Palestinian land, he said. Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered it demolished by the end of the year.

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