Text size

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that he did not agree with Cabinet Minister Avigdor Lieberman's comments urging Israel to redraw its map to "exchange" part of the Arab population and create a more "homogenous Jewish state," as a solution to Israel's Arab minority "problem."

The prime minister said Lieberman's words did not reflect his or his cabinet's opinion, which he described as support for complete equal rights for Israeli Arabs.

A number of Knesset members called Sunday for Lieberman's dismissal, as the minister stood by his remarks.

MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al) told Haaretz that Israeli Arabs are the salt of the earth, while Lieberman is nothing but an invader." MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) called for the immediate dismissal of Lieberman from the government in light of what he called "racist comments."

Lieberman told Army Radio earlier Sunday, "if we want to safeguard Israel's character as a Jewish and Zionist state, there is no other solution," adding that the separation should be "consensual."

"The reason for the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is not territory, not occupation, not settlers or settlements, rather friction between the two peoples and the two religions.

"Everywhere, the world over, no matter if it's the former Yugoslavia or the Caucasus region in Russia, or Northern Ireland, wherever there are two peoples and two religions, there is friction."

According to Lieberman, Israel had no alternative but to move toward "exchanges of populations and territory, in order to create the most homogenously Jewish state."

Referring to the Nazi-era term Judenrein, describing an area from which all Jews have been removed, Lieberman said:

"I don't understand why the Palestinians deserve a state which is 'Judenrein' - after all, we obligated ourselves to create a Palestinian state 'clean' of all Jews, to evacuate all settlements and all the Jews from there to create a homogenous state - while we turn into a bi-national country in which more than 20 percent of those within the state of Israel are minorities."

'Cyprus is the best model'"Minorities are the biggest problem in the world," the Sunday Telegraph quoted Lieberman as saying. Asked by the newspaper if citizens of Arab descent should be forced out through territorial redistribution, he said:

"I think separation between two nations is the best solution. Cyprus is the best model. Before 1974, the Greeks and Turks lived together and there were frictions and bloodshed and terror.

"After 1974, they constituted all Turks on one part of the island, all Greeks on the other part of the island and there is stability and security."

Told that in Cyprus thousands were forcibly driven from their homes, he replied: "Yes, but the final result was better."

The newspaper said that an aide to Lieberman later sought to expand on his remarks.

"Israeli Arabs don't have to go," the unnamed aide was quoted as saying. "But if they stay they have to take an oath of allegiance to Israel as a Jewish Zionist state."

Lieberman has often made remarks condemned as racist toward Israel's Arab minority, which numbers some one and a quarter million people.

In June, he was widely quoted as saying that Arab MKs who held contacts with Hamas should be executed.