Opinion |

Lieberman’s Words Must Become Deeds

The defense minister said that Israel should reach an agreement on the settlements with the new U.S. president in exchange for a ratification of President Bush’s letter to Ariel Sharon of 2004.

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Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, November 21, 2016.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, November 21, 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The residents of Amona find themselves, to their detriment, on the slippery slope down which Israel is sliding, at the bottom of which lies the end of the Zionist vision of a democratic state for the Jewish people.

They will pay the price, whether the rushed attempts by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bureau to patch together a solution to the pending evacuation of the settlement succeed or fail. The failure of this government on the diplomatic and security fronts will not be salvaged by borrowing the Cypriot model and bending it to our circumstances, or by using laws pertaining to absentee landowners to solve a political problem in one specific location.

It’s probable that in any blueprint for a solution to the conflict or a long-term arrangement, the main settlement blocs in which 80 percent of settlers currently reside will remain part of Israel, with a land swap of equal size. That will determine the boundary between the secure Jewish-democratic state of Israel and a demilitarized Palestine. But it will only happen if the government acts with wisdom and courage now, distinguishing between the blocs and settlements that lie outside them, east of the security barrier.

A person who’s expressed some recognition of this reality is Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said a few weeks ago that there will be no evading the evacuation of Amona. After the election of Donald Trump, he said that it would be best to reach an understanding with the incoming United States administration regarding the cessation of construction in isolated settlements, in exchange for a ratification of President Bush’s letter to Ariel Sharon of 2004. It seems that even in the current cabinet there are those who understand that the fuss around Amona is irrelevant to the state’s future.

If Lieberman’s proposal is adopted and Israel reaches an agreement with the U.S. administration on the halting of construction in remote settlements in exchange for recognition of the bigger blocs, Israel will thereby be declaring that it relinquishes its sovereignty over territories outside the blocs. Settlers living in those areas will sooner or later realize that Israel will give up its physical control there, and will rightfully demand to know their fates.

The government won’t be able to give one message to the U.S. and its opposite for internal consumption. It won’t be able to convey to the U.S. that it relinquishes in principle any sovereignty outside the blocs while holding the settlers who live in those areas hostage. Thus, an agreement with the U.S. on halting construction outside the blocs will oblige the government to legislate a law offering voluntary evacuation in exchange for compensation, which will enable tens of thousands of settlers living in those areas to rebuild their lives within the sovereign territory of Israel.

It should be noted that the Bush’s 2004 letter to Sharon referred to recognition of settlement blocs in the context of a permanent settlement of the conflict. It was delivered at the same time that the Sasson report on the outposts was delivered, stating that most of the outposts outside the main blocs were built illegally.

That’s why such a law is important. Its passage will signal to the incoming U.S. administration and to the entire world that Israel means what it says about a two-state solution. Such legislation will provide an opening for a true dialogue within Israeli society.

Lieberman added to his statement the following comment: “It may be electorally unwise for me to say this, but if I can focus on construction in places where 80 percent of settlers live and not where I live in Nokdim or in other outlying outposts, that’s a good thing.”

If the defense minister expects such a move to bear fruit, he should take an extra step and explicitly state that halting construction outside the blocs is necessary in order to establish a future Palestinian state, under conditions that are acceptable to Israel.

The fulfilment of Zionism by establishing a homeland for the Jewish people in the land of Israel and the existence of a secure democracy in such a state require the setting of its borders around a Jewish majority. It’s good that Lieberman is starting to tell the truth to Israel’s citizens, particularly to the settlers, but words must be translated into action.

The writers head the Blue-White Future movement.

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