Israel Will Help Rebuild Gaza if Hamas Disarms, Lieberman Says

In a rare interview with Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, the defense minister says he supports a two-state solution and would lift Israel's blockade if Hamas relinquishes its military stance.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visits an Israeli army unit on a high point overlooking the Gaza Strip, July 2016.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visits an Israeli army unit on a high point overlooking the Gaza Strip, July 2016.Credit: Ariel Hermony
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Israel will lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip and act to revive the enclave if Hamas relinquishes its military stance, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview on Monday with the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds.

"We will be the first to invest in a port, an airport and industrial areas," Lieberman said, in a rare interview by an Israeli minister with a Palestinian newspaper.

"If Hamas stops digging tunnels, rearming and firing rockets, we will lift the blockade and build the port and airport by ourselves."

The next war with Gaza will be so destructive it will be the last fought by Hamas, the defense minister said. He added that the population of the Strip needed to understand that they are being held hostage by their leadership.

"We need only look at who Hamas' allies are in the Arab and Islamic world – the Iranians and Hezbollah, which is described as a terrorist organization in an Arab League decision," Lieberman said.

The interview with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Al-Quds newspaper, October 24, 2016.Credit: N/A

Israel, according to Lieberman, will be willing to approve projects proposed by Turkey in the areas of electricity, water desalination and the renovation of the sewerage infrastructure. But he accused Hamas of preferring to buy arms over investing in infrastructure.

He told the Al-Quds interviewer that he supported a two-state solution and separation between the two nations, but blamed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the failure of negotiations between the sides, saying that Abbas had evaded taking advantage of opportunities.

"Abbas is not interested in a solution for the Palestinian people," Lieberman said. "He is only interested in his personal legacy and the assets owned by himself and his family in Amman, Qatar and Ramallah."

Asked whether he was prepared to talk with Hamas, Lieberman responded that there was nothing to talk about. "I cannot speak with someone who declares every day that he hates me and threatens to destroy the state of Israel and drive us into the sea," he said.

Asked whether Israel was looking for an alternative Palestinian leadership to replace Abbas, Lieberman said that there were reasonable people in the Palestinian Authority who were able to understand that partnership with Israel was preferable to partnership with Hamas.

In response to the interview, the Palestinian foreign ministry accused Lieberman of spreading lies in order to continue the occupation and Israeli settlement.

"Lieberman declares himself to be in favor of a two-state solution, while taking pride in being a settler and legitimizing the continued building of settlements and the Judaization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem," the ministry said in a statement.

It added that the defense minister was "trying to explain away his carrot-and-stick policy with a web of lies that won't be believed by the Palestinian people."

The ministry said that Lieberman was continuing his policy of creating a schism between the Palestinian people and its leadership, believing that by personally attacking Abbas he will be able to find a Palestinian partner who will adopt his positions.

Lieberman, it added, was offering a package of economic relief as an alternative to ending the occupation of Palestinian territories.

Lieberman repeated his position on land and population swaps in the interview, saying that his "vision differs from those of others."

"The correct principle is the exchange of territories and populations, rather than of land for peace," he said. "I have no idea why we need a city like Umm al-Fahm, whose people define themselves as Palestinians and don't recognize the Jewish state. I'm talking about Sheikh Raed Salah and the Islamic Movement and others.

"They regard themselves as Palestinian so let them be Palestinian. Why should I pay income support and unemployment?"

Asked to describe the extent of the swap he proposed, Lieberman said that he was speaking at the level of the two-state principle, though it was clear to him that Ma'ale Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Gush Etzion and Ariel would be part of Israel.

"The Palestinians want a state without Jews, while we will be a country in which 20 percent of the citizens describe themselves as Palestinians. That can't be.

"There will be two national homes, one Jewish and one Palestinian, and not a Palestinian state and a binational state."

He stressed that the concept of land and population swaps was his personal opinion and not that of the government.

Responding to the interview, Knesset Member Yousef Jabareen (Joint List), a resident of Umm al-Fahm, said that Lieberman was continuing his "campaign of incitement and delegitimization against the residents of Umm al-Fahm and the Arab population. I don’t understand why we need to be continually threatened that our citizenship will be withdrawn, as if it's some sort of act of kindness by Lieberman and not our birthright.

"Everyone understands that Lieberman is motivated by racism and his goal is to weaken and undermine the Arab public in Israel.

"It appears that Lieberman has already begun his next election campaign, based on hatred and the revocation of minority rights, as was the case in previous campaigns."

The interview with Al-Quds, one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, has evoked a strongly negative reaction among Palestinians, who described it as "the media of normalization with Israel and the occupation nation" in social media comments.

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