Lieberman, Bennett Divided Over Hamas

Foreign minister and economy minister disagree on value of unilateral moves, but both support toppling Hamas.

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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman at a cabinet meeting on July 31, 2014.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman at a cabinet meeting on July 31, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman signaled a rift on the right of Israel's political leadership Wednesday, ahead of a meeting of the inner cabinet to discuss the renewed hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the Habayit Hayehudi party, had previously suggested that Israel carry out unilateral actions such as opening the Gaza crossings without coordination with Hamas and quitting the peace talks in Cairo (Israeli and Palestinian negotiators alike have since left the talks in the Egyptian capital). But Lieberman, who heads Yisrael Beiteinu, spoke out Wednesday against unilateral moves.

"We don't need Hamas approval to open crossings for humanitarian equipment, medicine and food," Bennett said Tuesday. "We simply open up and make sure that no equipment that will be used to harm Israeli civilians gets into Gaza.

But Lieberman said Israel has already tried unilateral moves – most notably the hotly contested withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – and they haven't worked.

"The recent suggestion – no to an agreement, no to a deal and no to a unilateral commitment by the Palestinians to quiet now and forever – means a war of attrition, something that the State of Israel must not be dragged into," Lieberman wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday. "The suggestions for unilateral moves that have been sounded are suggestions from politicians who suffer from forgetfulness, and I remind everyone of a unilateral move called 'the disengagement' that has already been made in Gaza, and whose results we are paying for to this day."

Hamas took control of Gaza two years after the disengagement, which at various points had been criticized on the right for involving concessions without getting anything in return and on the left for bypassing negotiations.

Despite the differences of opinion between Lieberman and Bennett, both ministers continue to call on Israel to topple Hamas.

Lieberman said if Israel does not crush Hamas, it is leaving itself open to rocket fire on the first day of school, the eve of Rosh Hashanah or any time Hamas chooses.

"I hope it is now clear to everyone that the policy of 'quiet will be met with quiet' means that Hamas is the initiator and it is the one that decides when, where and how much it will fire on Israeli residents, while we make do with solely a response, which, even if it is a harsh one, is still just a response," he wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday. "When you're talking seriously about the security of Israeli residents, you have to understand that there is no possibility other than a resolute Israeli move that means only one thing: the defeat of Hamas."

Bennett said "only a harsh response" can stop the escalation, adding: "Sooner or later Israel will have to defeat Hamas, there's no way to avoid it."

Lieberman also brought the left-wing Meretz party into the debate, writing that even if Meretz chairwoman MK Zahava Gal-On were prime minister, Israel would still ultimately have ordered an extensive military offensive to topple Hamas.

But Gal-On countered that if Meretz were the ruling party, Israel would never have launched Operation Protective Edge in the first place because it would be engaged in peace talks with the Fatah-Hamas unity government.

Attacking Hamas does not really deter it from striking at Israel, she said.

"Deterrence is an illusion held by the attacker, but it has no basis in the behavior of the attacked," Gal-On said. "If I were prime minister, as Lieberman writes, we wouldn't have gotten to the point of Operation Protective Edge."

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