(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called on the citizens of Gaza to overthrow the Hamas regime and promised that Israeli support and assistance for the Palestinian population in the territory will be forthcoming if such an uprising takes place.
Liberman made his comments in a wide-ranging speech at the Netanya Academic College Wednesday night, during which he also lamented the retreat by the US from regional events in the Middle East, and said that without a broad, inclusive agreement with moderate Arab states, the Palestinians would never themselves agree to end the conflict with Israel.
The defense minister and Yisrael Beytenu chairman began by rejecting the premise of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and the Paris Peace Conference that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to the broader problems of the Middle East.
Liberman ascribed the severe instability and violence across the region to high unemployment, low economic development and opportunity, and high population growth.
Pointing specifically to Gaza, he described the activities of Hamas as “daylight robbery,” accusing the terrorist organization of taking taxes from Gaza’s residents which he said “are not going to benefit those residents, not to the health system or the education system, or the electricity grid, but to make missiles, weapons and tunnels – and people aren’t willing to tolerate this.”
Liberman was referencing recent protests staged in Gaza against the electricity shortage in the territory, which has stirred unrest and created difficulties for the Hamas regime.
He also pointed to the much better economic opportunities and calmer security situation in the West Bank as evidence of the efficacy of economic development for security, saying that “a successful Palestinian economy is in the security interest of Israel.”
He continued, “If the residents of Gaza took responsibility for their own fate and got rid of Hamas, we would be the first to build industrial zones there at Kerem Shalom and Erez crossing and build a seaport and airport.
There is potential, but the ball is in their court.”
The defense minister was also critical of the assumptions made by the UN, the Paris Peace Conference and the US that settlements are a central obstacle to the peace process, but said equally that Israel should not take unilateral steps to annex parts of the West Bank or advance the Settlements Arrangements Law at this stage.
Liberman also expressed criticism of US policy in the Middle East in recent years, and in particular Washington’s absence from efforts to stabilize Syria.
He described the recent cease-fire arranged between several of the warring factions in Syria as “unprecedented” in post-World War II history, due to the fact that the US was totally uninvolved in the arrangement.
“Russia, Turkey, Iran and other players are all active, and the most important actor is not on the map,” Liberman observed. “I hope this is a onetime precedent.”
He was also strongly critical of outgoing US President Barack Obama’s pardon of Chelsea Manning, who leaked classified documents pertaining to US actions in Iraq, when bearing in mind the refusal to pardon Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard and the refusal to ease his terms of parole.
Liberman argued that Manning had leaked “thousands of sensitive documents” and exposed them to the enemies of the US, whereas Pollard had transferred documents only to a US ally.
He nevertheless insisted that Pollard’s actions had been “a severe violation,” but said it was a shame the Obama administration was completing its term in office with such a step.