Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Monday vowed to allocate additional funds to improve the conditions at West Bank crossings, which he said cause “humanitarian harm” to Palestinians who seek to cross into Israel each day to work.
In a question-and-answer session in the Knesset, the defense minister also told lawmakers he was willing to be “flexible” on diplomatic matters, but would remain “tough” and uncompromising on security.
In his remarks, the defense minister doubled down on his criticism of Army Radio over its program on Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, whose writings he likened to those of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. He affirmed that one may discuss Darwish “under the headline of ‘know thy enemy'” but not as a “formative Israeli narrative.”
In response to one MK’s question, Liberman promised to work to ease conditions at West Bank crossings.
“What is happening at the crossings is unreasonable,” he said. “It inflicts security harm and humanitarian harm. Even at the crossings that are not under the Defense Ministry’s control, like Qalandiya, everyone suffers — Jews and Arabs.”
Liberman said he was seeking additional funding to improve the crossings, “and I hope we receive support for this in the Knesset.”
The Finance Ministry earlier this year approved a plan to expand and streamline the entry infrastructure and procedures and crossings in order to ease congestion as growing numbers of Palestinians find work in Israel. The Treasury allocated NIS 10 million (some $2.6 million) to improve the crossings in recent months, and called for “upgrading and expanding” the crossings to a level “suitable for regular workers.” Additional funds drawn from a NIS 100 million ($26 million) package to boost Palestinian economic benefits were also earmarked to improve the crossings.
“I am in favor of diplomatic flexibility and security toughness,” added Liberman in one of his first public appearances since entering the Defense Ministry. “I am willing to be flexible on diplomatic matters, but I am unwilling to be a sucker and compromise on security matters.”
Liberman was appointed defense minister in May.
The new defense minister also said he was piecing together a “carrot and stick” plan for the Palestinian population to “encourage the moderates and coexistence in order to prevent attacks.” But he added that he was against returning the bodies of Palestinian terrorists to their families for burial and was in favor of new counter-terror measures that have not been tried yet, without elaborating.
During the hour-long session, part of the “question time” series of Q&As introduced recently in the Knesset as part of a reform to the no-confidence powers of the parliament, an Arab lawmaker read out a Darwish poem in Arabic in protest of Liberman’s comments against the Palestinian nationalist poet.
Liberman last week summoned Army Radio’s director to chastise him over a program about Darwish, saying it was akin to reading “Mein Kampf” on-air.
Dov Lieber contributed to this report.