Editorial

The Old Avigdor Lieberman Is Back

Israel's defense chief has been expressing moderate opinions on volatile issues over the past few months. And then came his Facebook post on Monday.

Avigdor Lieberman, head of far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, (L) sits next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they sign a coalition deal to broaden the government's parliamentary majority, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem May 25, 2016.
Israel's defense chief in 2016. Has he gone back to his old ways? Emil Salman

Over the past few months, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been expressing moderate opinions on volatile issues like the Elor Azaria verdict and the state comptroller’s report on Operation Protective Edge. Apparently this ministerial restraint was costing him, and he felt an urgent need to prove that he hasn’t tilted leftward too much.

He did this on Monday by issuing the following message on his Facebook page and in a press release: “At the start of a new attempt to launch diplomatic talks between Israel and the Palestinians, it is worth learning lessons from the past, and the first lesson is that any attempt to resolve the Palestinian issue on the basis of land for peace is destined to fail. The only way to reach a sustainable arrangement is the exchange of territories and populations as part of a comprehensive regional agreement.

“It cannot be that a homogenous Palestinian state will be established without a single Jew – 100 percent Palestinians – while on the other hand Israel will be a binational state with 22 percent Palestinians,” the statement continued. “There is no reason why Sheikh Ra’ed Salah, Ayman Odeh, Basel Ghattas or Haneen Zoabi should continue to be Israeli citizens.”

You don’t need Rashi’s commentary to understand what Lieberman means. The defense minister believes that hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arab citizens don’t really belong to the state and should be transferred from sovereign Israeli territory to another country because of their ethnic affiliation. Practically speaking, under the guise of seeking a “sustainable arrangement,” Lieberman wants to convey to the state’s Arab citizens that they aren’t wanted by the State of Israel and that their citizenship is temporary and conditional.

Perhaps Lieberman is jealous of Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and the Likud lawmakers who are calling for annexation of the West Bank while denying rights to the Palestinians. After all, he was there on the right when they were still in political preschool, and now they’re circumventing him. It’s too bad he hasn’t internalized the responsibility incumbent on him as a minister. Instead of focusing on reducing discrimination and increasing equality for Israel’s Arab citizens, he is deliberately undermining the important process of integrating them into the country’s culture and economy and especially foiling the consolidation of their identities as Israelis.

Lieberman knows that the right of those born here to maintain Israeli citizenship is no less than that of a Jew who is naturalized by way of the Law of Return. It’s not only that the idea of creating an Israel “cleansed” of Arabs is warped, but that even raising it as an option is unacceptable. Yes, even if the goal is to use this idea to carve a path back into Likud in order to grab hold of its leadership after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retires.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.