Lieberman Slams Bennett for 'Irresponsible' Stance on Amona, Settlements

Defense minister says Israel must stop acting unilaterally in the West Bank and instead reach an understanding with the Trump administration on Israel’s settlement policy.

Defense Minister Lieberman at Ariel University, September 12, 2016.
Moti Milrod

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman criticized cabinet colleague Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) on Thursday for his behavior over the planned evacuation of the illegal outpost of Amona and the settlement-legalization bill that is progressing through the Knesset.

“We are practical and pragmatic people, we won’t be carried away by slogans,” Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) said at an event in Ashdod. “I respect Naftali Bennett, who has his own view. I have a completely different one and think that at this time one should wait and act responsibly.”

Lieberman repeated his earlier statement that attempts should be made to reach a deal with the new U.S. administration regarding a construction freeze in isolated settlements in return for American recognition of the settlement blocs and consent to build within them. “What use are all the slogans if you end up not building a thing?” he asked.

Habayit Hayehudi sources responded by saying, “Lieberman is a relentless chatterbox. He should focus on eliminating Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh instead of volunteering to establish Palestine on Route 6,” referring to the Israeli highway that skirts the West Bank in central Israel.

Lieberman said it is “critical” to reach understandings with the new Trump administration regarding the settlements. “If anyone believes we can continue unilaterally with our settlement enterprise without such an understanding, he is gravely mistaken,” he said. “It’s vital to reach an understanding with them. The prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] has to formulate an overall outlook that is acceptable to the entire governing coalition, and I believe this will happen in the coming days.”

Regarding the demolition of Amona – which the High Court of Justice has ordered the state to carry out by December 25 – Lieberman repeated that the evacuation must pass quietly, but warned of the possibility that Israel Defense Forces soldiers may be attacked.

“One may protest, one should protest – these are people whose homes are being taken away from them,” he said, but added that “IDF soldiers should not be involved in a political or ideological dispute. The IDF is the biggest common denominator in Israeli society.

Lieberman said the main reason Israel hadn’t developed settlements at “the pace I would have liked to” is its failure “to reach a coordinated policy with the American administration. That’s why instead of making promises or creating facts on the ground and getting all fired up, we should wait. A new administration is coming and we should try, as quickly as possible, to formulate a new policy regarding Judea and Samaria. There are no guarantees or assurances, and nothing is in our pockets yet. But we should at least try and reach an agreed-upon policy with the new administration.

“I’m sorry there are people who try to deceive first of all the settlers, while trying to create expectations,” Lieberman added. “The more you deceive, the harder the landing is when reality hits. One should understand that these are good people, the residents of Amona. They are law-abiding, it’s not their fault. One should look for solutions, but these must be practical – not ones suited for [political] primaries or within the framework of a competition over who is holier than the pope, or [who is] more right-wing.”

Lieberman’s criticism of Bennett – who is also the education minister – is the latest flash point in the confrontation between the two ministers.

Over the last two weeks, Bennett has led a bellicose approach, calling on the government to abandon its commitment to a two-state solution and to address the issue of Amona and construction in other settlements, despite international criticism.

“Trump’s victory is a tremendous opportunity for Israel to immediately announce its intention to renege on the idea of establishing Palestine in the heart of the country – a direct blow to our security and the justice of our cause, Bennett said when Trump’s victory was confirmed a week ago.

“This is the president-elect’s outlook as it appears in his platform, and that definitely should be our way. Salient, simple and clear. The era of the Palestinian state is over,” he added. Bennett’s actions triggered a furious response by both the prime minister and Lieberman.

After Wednesday’s preliminary reading of the settlement-legitimization bill in the Knesset, Lieberman criticized its timing. “Anyone who’s concerned about the future of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria understands that the most important thing now is to coordinate positions with the new American administration,” he said, adding, “It’s the first time there is a right-wing government in Israel, a Republican president, and a Republican majority in the Senate and Congress. Therefore, we mustn’t create facts on the ground and embarrass the incoming administration.”