Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday that he plans to establish a “personal dialogue” channel with Palestinian figures and bypass the Palestinian Authority.
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“I want to contact them directly, not through the muqata,” Lieberman said, at a briefing with military reporters. He said he wanted to talk to Palestinian society directly and “cut out the middlemen.”
“If there are intellectuals, academics, outstanding municipal officials – why should they talk to us through Mahmoud Abbas?” Lieberman asked. “If he talks to the Israeli society, why shouldn’t we talk to the Palestinian society?”
Lieberman said the Defense Ministry had made a list of Palestinian academics, businessmen and intellectuals, with whom he intends to talk personally. In addition, the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, a unit in the ministry, will set up an Arab-language internet site that will report the news “from our perspective.”
Some 10 million shekels will be invested in the site, which is expected to be launched at the end of January, Lieberman said. “It may be a little pretentious and challenging to set up a news site – but we’ve approved the entire budget and the positions,” he said.
About two months ago, Lieberman revoked the entry permit of Mohammed al-Madani, chairman of the Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, who had acted to strengthen ties with Israelis through direct contacts. Asked if his plans weren’t the same as what Madani was doing, Lieberman said Madani “didn’t come to hold talks and ensure coexistence, but the opposite.”
Lieberman confirmed that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit objects to his orders not to return to bodies of Palestinian assailants to their families for burial and refuses to defend Lieberman’s position in the High Court of Justice.
Lieberman said he was willing to go to court himself to explain his position and noted that he had asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold a cabinet debate on the issue. “It looks a little grotesque that two ministries (defense and interior) have different positions on this,” he said.
The Justice Ministry confirmed that it opposes Lieberman's position, and said that it doesn’t qualify under the terms set in the High Court of Justice's fundamental rulings. In response to an inquiry from Haaretz, the Justice Ministry said that preventing the return of terrorists' bodies is conditioned on security needs, and that more proportional means should be examined, such as limiting the holding of mass funerals, for example.
As previously reported, the professional staff at the IDF and the Shin Bet security service also thinks differently than Lieberman, and doesn’t see a real reason to hold on to terrorists' bodies.
"As for the defense minister's current position on not returning the bodies of terrorists to their families, in its examination, the opinions of senior defense establishment officials were referred to. From these opinions, it seems that at the moment the basic condition described, of the existence of security needs that justify a sweeping avoidance of the returning of bodies, isn’t met," the Justice Ministry said.
Lieberman spoke in favor of a “carrot and stick” policy toward the Palestinians – increasing arrests, restrictions on construction and law enforcement in the home towns and villages of assailants, while encouraging “civilian projects” in other places.
For example, he said he had approved the construction of a Palestinian hospital in Beit Sahour, a town east of Bethlehem, as well as an industrial area in west Nablus.
Asked if reopening the casino in Jericho could be one such incentive, Lieberman said, “I’m against casinos. I don’t think that’s what Israel needs. I don’t think we need one in Eilat, either.”
Lieberman slammed the international community for castigating Israel for its plans to destroy Palestinian homes in the West Bank village of Sussia.
“The international community’s position is annoying. On the one hand, they talk about the rule of law, but if [we make] an inconvenient ruling, they exercise substantial pressure,” he said, referring to the warnings Israel had received from the United States and the European Union against destroying the houses.
“Those who invaded and built illegally are those people from Yata, from where seven assailants came in the last [terror] wave. And we have to explain why we don’t give them permits to build there illegally,” he said.
“In our context, this is a policy of apartheid and racism. When a Jew buys property in East Jerusalem, it’s immediate protest and stories, [but] this doesn’t happen when an Arab buys an apartment in west Jerusalem,” he said.
The prosecution is expected to ask the High Court of Justice for a two-month extension to deliver Lieberman's position on reaching an arrangement or on the evacuation or Sussia. While discussing an appeal by Rabbis for Human Rights some two weeks ago to reach an arrangement regarding the community, the court asked to receive the defense minister's position on the matter by the beginning of this week.
On Monday, the state asked for a two-day extension, and it is now expected to ask to submit the position only on October 30. In the meanwhile, it is not officially prohibited to remove part of the homes in the community, prior to the submission of the position.