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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Lieberman interview

The holiday edition of the JPost (no hard copy paper tomorrow) features a lengthy interview with foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. Here are some highlights.
Israel has proved its good intentions, our desire for peace. Since 1978, we gave up territories three times larger than Israel. We invested billions of shekels in the Palestinian Authority. We paid a very heavy price. Thousands of our citizens were killed in terrorist acts. What more can we do?

Without understanding the real reasons for this long-standing conflict, we cannot move forward. That's my view.

Over the last two weeks I've had many conversations with my colleagues around the world. Just today, I saw the political adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Chinese foreign minister and the Czech prime minister. And everybody, you know, speaks with you like you're in a campaign: Occupation, settlements, settlers...

You mean they speak in slogans?

Yes, slogans. Settlements, outposts. And I ask only one thing: What was the situation before 1967, before we established a single settlement. What was before '48 and '67? Was it peace, was it a heaven here?

It was the same: friction, terrorism, bloodshed. The PLO and Fatah were established before '67 and the Arab countries controlled Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip for 19 years, from '48 to '67. Nobody spoke during this time about the Palestinian state. And even before the establishment of the state of Israel, it was the same: friction, tension, terror, riots, pogroms. People try to simplify the situation with these formulas - land for peace, two-state solution. It's a lot more complicated.

You don't need to persuade this newspaper not to speak to you in slogans, but nonetheless, is it not the case that for our sake, to keep a Jewish, democratic Israel, we have to find some way to separate from the Palestinians? And doesn't that mean, in principle at least, statehood? I understand the prime minister's concerns about what statehood brings with it - giving one the right to arm and to pose a threat. But what then is the ultimate goal here vis-a-vis the Palestinians?

Yes, you live here and you understand the situation. I'm not sure that in Europe, that the leadership of the European Union, understand. For them, it's occupation, settlements and settlers.

I view The Jerusalem Post not only as an Israeli newspaper, but as a means to speak to people around the world - supporters and enemies.

We must clarify our position. The real reason [for the deadlock with the Palestinians] is not occupation, not settlements and not settlers. This conflict is really a very deep conflict. It started like other national conflicts. Today it's a more religious conflict. Today you have the influence of some non-rational players, like Al-Qaida. What is Hamas and Islamic Jihad? It's Iran by proxy.

To resolve this conflict, it is not enough to repeat slogans. I don't see any short way for any comprehensive solutions.

From my point of view, we're interested in three things. First of all, as Israeli citizens, the most important thing is security. I don't want to see, every day, every morning, Palestinian missiles striking Sderot.

Second, what is most important for the Palestinians? I think it's also very clear - the economy. Now I say as a settler, we at Nokdim are the biggest employer in our area. I have met many times with Palestinians from the villages around us, who really strongly do not believe in any political process, in peace processes - not in summits, not in conferences, not in declarations...

They have unemployment of 30-40 percent, especially in the Gaza Strip, with families living on $200 a month. Like all normal peoples, they want, first of all, jobs, to feed their families, to provide education for their children, health services, personal security. So the key value for the Palestinians is the economy.

It's not independence? And they didn't vote for Hamas because they want to get rid of Israel? It's the economy?

Why they voted Hamas is an interesting question. It was not independence, and not because they believe in Hamas's radical ideology, but because Hamas established a social services framework - clinics, funds, schools. And the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, on the other hand, during the Arafat regime and after it, was seen as very corrupt in its institutions. That's why Hamas won the elections. The same applies today. The Palestinians want normal lives, a standard of living, jobs.

And the third element, of course, is stability. Economy, security, stability. It's impossible to artificially impose any political solution. It will fail, for sure. You cannot start any peace process from nothing. You must create the right situation, the right focus, the right conditions.


Is our government going to say to the international community and the Americans in particular, 'We're not even going to start trying to make progress with the Palestinians until you stop Iran?

No, no, no, no, no.

That's the impression that's sometimes being created.

No, we must start with the Palestinian issues because it's our interest to resolve this problem. But there should be no illusions. To achieve an agreement, to achieve an end of conflict, with no more bloodshed, no more terror, no more claims - that's impossible until Iran [is addressed], one of the biggest players in our arena...

Where does Hamas and Gaza fit into the plan Israel will present to the Obama administration?

It must be clear that we cannot deal with Hamas in any way. Not directly. Not indirectly. We've tried to clarify our position to Europe. The [three] Quartet conditions must be kept on the table [- recognition of Israel; acceptance of previous agreements; renunciation of violence]. We've clarified that they [Europe] should not move from this, not to change these conditions. Hamas cannot be a partner to any discussions.

Is the goal to bring down Hamas?

Hamas cannot be a partner to any discussions, any talks or any process. I hope that we can suffocate Hamas. It's in our interests, in the interests of the Egyptians, and the Palestinian Authority. As we saw, Hamas is only a proxy of the Iranians here, and they repeat openly every day their intention to destroy us; they're not ready to recognize our right to exist. From my point of view there is only one way: to suffocate Hamas.

How do you achieve that?

We have enough possibilities. If the Egyptians, Palestinians and us build the right strategy, there are many effective ways to do this. Not only militarily. But if Hamas strikes Sderot and other towns in the south, then also militarily.


So you think the Abbas and the PA recognize our right to exist here?

In general, they recognize our right to exist. [I would say that's overly optimistic. CiJ] In my first meeting with Mitchell, I demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish country. It's a very important point for us.
Read it all.


At 9:37 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - the Palestinians recognize the fact of Israel's existence. What Lieberman doesn't grasp is as I observed in the previous post is the Palestinians do not recognize the legitimacy of Israel's existence as a Jewish State. Those are two very different things and on the core issue of the dispute, they have not budged an inch in the past 61 years. Unless the Palestinians come to terms with the latter, the two state solution is just as Lieberman rightly notes, a slogan empty of practical content. I do take issue with the view the Palestinians want and need a better life because they do not care for a more fulfilled existence if that means giving up destroying Israel. So I do not see any hope for real progress in resolving the conflict with the Palestinians.


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