Lieberman Softens Image on First Day in Office

New defense chief talks peace in meetings with Eisenkot, army brass and ministry officials.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (left), with Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, May 31, 2016.
Defense Ministry

“When there is a clash between the wholeness of the land and the wholeness of the people, the wholeness of the people is more important,” newly installed Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday.

Lieberman was addressing the Israel Defense Forces General Staff after reviewing the troops at an official ceremony at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv. He was sworn in by the Knesset on Monday.

The head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party reviewed the troops at the official ceremony, then shook hands with IDF top brass and ministry staff. The event was attended by members of the new minister’s family and MKs from his party.

Lieberman’s predecessor, Moshe Ya’alon, tweeted that he had spoken with Lieberman and wished him success in the job. The two arranged to meet so that Ya’alon can brief him.

Lieberman also spent time on his first day with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Defense Ministry director general Udi Adam, a major general in the reserves who is also new to his job. After Lieberman’s meeting with Eisenkot, the two met with members of the General Staff and senior Defense Ministry officials.

Following Lieberman’s swearing-in at the Knesset, he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both addressed the chamber, saying they are committed to peace and support a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

“I am committed to achieving peace with our neighbors, the Palestinians and all our neighbors,” Netanyahu said, adding in reference to the 2002 Arab League proposal, “The Arab Peace Initiative includes positive elements that can help to rehabilitate constructive negotiations with the Palestinians. We are ready to conduct negotiations with Arab countries about updating the initiative, to reflect the dramatic changes in our region since 2002, but will retain the agreed-upon objective of two states for two peoples.”

The Arab initiative, backed by all 22 member-states of the Arab League, offered Israel full normalized relations in return for a withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, a Palestinian state, and an equitable solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.

For his part, Lieberman said Monday: “[I] agree with all of the things including two states for two peoples. I have spoken on more than one occasion about recognition of that same solution of two states for two peoples. I absolutely agree that the Arab initiative also has several very positive elements that make serious dialogue with the states in the region possible.”

And in reference to Netanyahu’s 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, in which the prime minister first expressed support for a two-state solution, Lieberman said: “I very much supported the Bar-Ilan speech.”

Lieberman said Tuesday he believes in political pragmatism along with military strength, and that he was coming to his new post with an open mind.

Speaking at a General Staff meeting Tuesday, he said Israel’s strength as a nation was based on three elements. The first was that “we do not have the luxury of going to wars unless there is no choice, and we must win them We also do not have the luxury of waging a long war of attrition.” Lieberman said that in a democracy, matters of war and peace “must express the will and support of a large majority of the people and must not turn on a single coincidental vote in the Knesset.”

The second aspect, Lieberman said, is “something I have spoken and written about in the past. When there is a clash between the wholeness of the land and the wholeness of the people, the wholeness of the people is more important.”

The third element, Lieberman told the army brass, is equality of opportunity. “This manifests itself in the need to dramatically reduce the gap in the percentage of success in matriculation exams in high schools,” Lieberman said, noting that in the outlying city of Kiryat Malachi, the percentage of high school students passing their matriculation exams was 49.85 percent, while in the well-heeled central city of Ra’anana the passing rate was 86.35 percent. “This is something that a healthy society cannot allow itself,” he said.

Lieberman thanked Ya’alon for his “not insignificant” contribution and pledged to work closely with Eisenkot and the General Staff. “I am certain that together we will all protect the security of Israel’s citizens,” he said.