Liberman: Topple Hamas and give UN control over Gaza

Mandates in Kosovo and East Timor ‘worked not bad,’ foreign minister says, as Netanyahu’s office remains mum on current ceasefire negotiations

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference in the Knesset on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference in the Knesset on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The United Nations could take control over the Gaza Strip once Hamas has been removed from power, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman suggested Monday, as Egyptians and Palestinians met in Cairo to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and the terrorist group.

Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Liberman said asking the UN to become the custodian of Gaza was one of several ways Israel could proceed were it to bring down Hamas.

“One idea is an international mandate of the United Nations. A UN mandate is not only part of the history of the land of Israel, we also saw it nowadays at least several times, for example in the cases of East Timor and Kosovo. We saw UN mandates working, and they worked not bad. And therefore here, too, we need to consider returning control over Gaza to the UN. I certainly don’t rule out this option.”

An aide to Liberman told The Times of Israel the idea was “a serious possible consideration,” when asked whether the suggestion was meant as a trial balloon.

The aide wrote on the Twitter account of  Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party that the idea was meant as a “challenge” to the international community. Based on how world leaders react, Israel could see “how they really feel [about this possible] solution.”

As the military campaign in Gaza winds down, Jerusalem has three options, Liberman said: either Israel agrees to a ceasefire, or it defeats Hamas, or it remains in some sort of “limbo” in which the IDF retaliates whenever Hamas launches rockets. “In my opinion, the third option simply isn’t relevant. A normal country cannot be run according to the will of a terrorist organization. Regarding the first two options, it’s obvious that the terrorist group’s demands are nonstarters.”

“The goal, from our perspective, is to achieve calm, remove the rocket threat and prevent rearmament [of Gaza terrorist groups,]” he said.

At the same time as Liberman was making his comments about the future of Gaza, Palestinian factions were meeting in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence officials in an effort to broker a ceasefire to a month of fighting. Israel was set to join the talks multiple times, but in the past week has said that due to Hamas’s violations of multiple ceasefires, Israel would no longer negotiate any agreement with Hamas.

“We’re not there — that sends a strong message to Hamas,” an Israeli official told The Times of Israel. “It shows them that we aren’t interested in entering a ceasefire, because they won’t keep it. We will unilaterally withdraw so that they don’t have any demands from us. Also, if we need to go back in [to Gaza], we don’t break any agreements.” However, the official added, Israel is “in close contact” with Egypt regarding the negotiations.

What are the Palestinian demands for a ceasefire? According to Maher al-Taher, a member of the Palestinian delegation to Cairo, the Palestinians want “a ceasefire; Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza; the end of the siege of Gaza and opening its border crossings.” The Palestinian also demand fishing rights up to 12 nautical miles off Gaza’s coast and the release of Palestinian prisoners, Taher said Sunday.

The United States and Qatar, too, have renewed their attempts to reach understandings on a ceasefire, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel on Monday. This alternative proposal requires Israel to withdraw from Gaza, ease restrictions at the border crossings and allow the rehabilitation of Gaza. In return, the new Palestinian unity government will handle contacts between the sides over the border crossings, the importing of goods, and the passage of businessmen into Israel and Gaza after the ceasefire takes effect.

The Prime Minister’s Office on Monday refused to comment on Liberman’s statement as well as on any of the international efforts to reach a ceasefire.

‘For Gaza disarmament, we have partners in the region and beyond’

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the IDF is in the middle of demilitarizing Gaza, a goal shared by the international community — including many states in the Arab world.

“The Hamas military machine is being depleted as we speak,” the senior official said. “When this is over, the challenge will be: how do we prevent Hamas from rearming? For that we need international cooperation and we believe we have partners in that effort both in the region and beyond.”

The official was referring to the “unique link” which Israel has ostensibly forged with moderate Arab states, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday. This unofficial alliance, Netanyahu had said, is “a very important asset” for Israel, which after Operation Protective Edge will “open new possibilities” for the state. It remains unclear what exactly Netanyahu was referring to, beyond the fact that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries see in Hamas and Islamic terrorism a danger just as much as Israel.

“That fact that we have a common enemy doesn’t mean that we’re friends,” a well-placed Israeli official said, adding that he knows of no partnerships or opportunities with states in the Arab world.

Meanwhile, Liberman’s proposal to hand control over Gaza to the UN raised eyebrows in Jerusalem, especially since in the past he has been critical of the idea that international forces could guarantee Israel’s security.

A well-placed source scoffed at his suggestion, saying there is not one country in the world that would support it. The international community sees the creation of an independent Palestinian state that includes Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem as the only feasible long-term solution. Not even Micronesia would vote for Liberman’s idea, the source said. “Has there been any preparatory work before this idea was raised? Has it been explored with the UN or the countries who would support this idea? The answer to all these questions is a resounding no.”

UN missions in East Timor and Kosovo provide ‘interim’ assistance

In his comments about international mandates, the foreign minister referred to the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, know as UNMIK, and the UN Mission of Support in East Timor, or UNMISET, respectively.

UNMIK was created by the UN Security Council in 1999 to provide an interim administration for Kosovo, under which the people of Kosovo “can enjoy substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and which will provide transitional administration while establishing and overseeing the development of provisional democratic self-governing institutions to ensure conditions for a peaceful and normal life for all inhabitants of Kosovo.”

Some of its main responsibilities included “promoting the establishment, pending a final settlement, of substantial autonomy and self-government in Kosovo; performing basic civilian administrative functions where and as long as required; organizing and overseeing the development of provisional institutions for democratic and autonomous self-government pending a political settlement, including the holding of elections.”

Initially, up to 4,718 police personnel and 38 military liaison officers were part of UNMIK. After Kosovo declared independence in 2008, the mandate has been drastically changed and the deployment on the ground reduced accordingly. Today, only nine military liaison officers and six police officers remain on the ground as part of UNMIK.

UNMISET was created in May 2002 to “provide assistance to core administrative structures critical to the viability and political stability of East Timor” and to provide interim law enforcement and public security, according to the UN. Three years later, UNMISET “successfully concluded its mandate” and was succeeded by a small political follow-up mission “to ensure that the underpinnings of a viable State are firmly in place in that country.”

During its peak strength, the force included 4,776 military personnel and  771 policemen.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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