Palestinian Authority and Hamas officials responded with disdain Monday afternoon to Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s statements on the Middle East conflict in an interview with a Palestinian newspaper.
In his conversation with the Al-Quds daily published earlier in the day, Liberman voiced his support for the two-state solution and accused PA President Mahmoud Abbas of shying away from the difficult decisions necessary in order to achieve peace.
A statement from the PA said Liberman was “deluding himself that he can find a Palestinian peace partner who will fit his views.” It accused the Israeli minister of “deviously attempting to drive a wedge between the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership” but maintained that his comments sounded like “a broken record.”
It also laughed off the minister’s stated support for two states, saying that as he spoke, the “bulldozers of the occupation” were working to bury the remains of that solution — a reference to ongoing construction in West Bank settlements.
Hamas too responded with derision to Liberman’s threat that the terror group would be “completely” destroyed in any future war, and his vow to help rebuild the Gaza Strip if the organization stops its military activities against Israel.
“We are a people under occupation,” a spokesman for the group was quoted by Channel 10 News as saying. “We have a right to hold military capabilities in order to defend ourselves.”
“All former defense ministers threatened us and they’re all dead,” said the group’s former interior minister Fathi Hamad. “We’re not afraid.”
The Yisrael Beytenu party leader repeated his support for a land-swap and the controversial “transfer” of Israeli Arab towns, including Umm al-Fahm, to a future Palestinian state, while Israel would keep major settlement blocs in the West Bank. If the residents of Umm al-Fahm, a large Arab town in northern Israel, “regard themselves as Palestinians, let them live in a Palestinian state,” he said. Current West Bank settlement construction was being done within the confines of existing blocs, he insisted.
These statements were met with anger by left-wing Israeli lawmakers.
“Liberman is treating Israel’s Arab citizens not as human beings, but as merchandise to be swapped,” said Meretz party leader Zehava Galon. “He is in effect saying they are citizens on probation.”
MK Yousef Jabareen of the Joint (Arab) List said the minister was motivated by racism and was seeking to “incite and delegitimize the residents of Umm al-Fahm.
“I don’t understand why we must be under constant threat that our citizenship will be stripped, as if [that citizenship] is some magnanimous deed by Liberman, and not a basic right in our homeland,” he said.
Liberman also told the newspaper that Israel had no interest in initiating a new offensive in Gaza. He claimed Israel would be the first to rehabilitate the Strip, lift the blockade and build crucial economic infrastructure in the Palestinian territory — such as a seaport and airport and industrial zones — if rocket launches, attack tunnels and gun running were to stop.
Israeli officials have expressed support for helping construct a seaport in the Gaza Strip, so long as there’s Israeli oversight to prevent the import of weapons to the Palestinian enclave.
But, he said, if Israel were forced into another war with the Islamist group that controls Gaza, it would be Hamas’s last war. “We will destroy it completely,” he warned.
Liberman’s remarks were published the same day rocket sirens sounded along the Gaza border after a rocket was fired at Israel from the Palestinian enclave. Israeli aircraft later carried out a retaliatory strike in Gaza. There were no reports of casualties on either side.
Liberman noted that Israel has no interest in reconquering the Gaza Strip, which it evacuated civilians and troops from in 2005 in a unilateral withdrawal. That comment was an apparent turnaround from his repeated insistence in previous years that the only way to stop rocket fire was for Israel to reoccupy the Gaza Strip.
Liberman charged that Hamas has invested over half a billion dollars in military infrastructure in Gaza in recent years, while reconstruction of Palestinian homes destroyed in the 2014 war with Israel has moved at a snail’s pace.
Liberman accused Abbas of presiding over a corrupt hierarchy. If Palestinian elections were held today, he said, “[Abbas] would be deposed.”