The only agreement with the Palestinians that Yisrael Beytenu will support will be one where there is an exchange of populations, and not only territory, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday.
Speaking at the Foreign Ministry’s annual meeting of Israel’s ambassadors, Liberman said he was referring specifically to re-routing the border so that Wadi Ara and the Little Triangle, a collection of Arab villages next to the Green Line, would be a part of a future Palestinian state.
“We are not talking about a transfer, as was done to the Jewish settlements in Gush Katif,” he said. “Nobody will be expelled from their homes or dispossessed of their possessions.”
Instead, he said, what he had in mind was “simply moving the border.”
Liberman said there was no reason Israeli Arabs living there “should not join their brethren under full Palestinian sovereignty and become citizens of the future Palestinian state that they want so badly.”
The foreign minister, who will travel Monday to London for talks with British officials, including Foreign Secretary William Hague, said an Israeli- Palestinian agreement needs to be conditioned on “regulating the issue of Israeli Arabs.”
Liberman said he would not agree to grant a “right of return” to any Palestinians into Israel, “not even one.” In 2008, then-prime minister Ehud Olmert was believed to have agreed to a symbolic acceptance by Israel of some 5,000 Palestinian “refugees.”
Allowing any descendants of Palestinians to return, Liberman said, would bring about a great deal of pressure on Israel.
“I am not sure future government could withstand the pressure,” he maintained. He said that since the Oslo accords, some 10,000 Palestinians have moved inside the Green Line, and another 100,000 Palestinians – most from Jordan and other Arab states – have moved into the West Bank.
Liberman, who met Friday with US Secretary of State John Kerry, praised him for his tireless efforts to reach an accord, and said he supports a comprehensive and defensible agreement.
“Even with all the doubts I have over the true intention of the other side, dialogue between us is important,” he said.
He said that even when the sides do not agree or trust each other, there is “supreme importance” in being able to talk and reasonably manage daily life together. These words stand in marked contrast to remarks he made just over a year ago, when he called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a “liar, coward, and wimp” who does not represent anyone or control anything.
Liberman expressed appreciation to Kerry for being extremely clear about the need for Israel to be recognized as a Jewish state and to have its security needs met. No one in the international arena has been as clear as Kerry about these issues, he said.
The foreign minister, who was for all intents and purposes boxed out of Israel-US relations when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, stressed the importance of Israel’s relations with the US.
“Our cooperation with the Americans is, without a doubt, the foundation on which Israel’s foreign policy is based,” he said.
Liberman added that Israel must ask itself not only how it can be assisted by the US, but also how it can help America. He said it is incumbent on the country to understand that the US is facing enormous challenges: North Korea, the China-Japan- South Korea triangle, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Egypt, as well as domestic problems such as immigration, the budget, and health care.
Liberman said it is not only important to think about an agreement with the Palestinians, but also about the day after an agreement. He said the conclusion he drew from everything happening now in the Middle East is that removing dictators is the easy part, and that it is necessary to think about what will happen the day after.
“When I speak of the day after, imagine an independent Palestinian state that does not need to ask our consent to absorb Palestinian [refugees], and can issue sovereign Palestinian identity cards as it wishes, what would happen?” Liberman, who put the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria at 2.4 million, said there are another 3 million Palestinians in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon who, immediately with the declaration of a Palestinian state, will either want to move to the new state or be forced by their host countries to do so.
“Let’s think one step ahead,” he said. “Will the economy in Judea and Samaria, which is not the economy of Norway or Switzerland, be able to absorb 3 million additional Palestinians? Where will they live? What will the eat? Where will they work? And how will that impact on Israel? “Will an agreement with the Palestinians bring an end to pressure on Israel from the international community?” he asked.
“Or, instead of the so-called settlements and occupation, will they continue to attack us on issues such as the Beduin in the Negev or strengthening Jewish settlement in the Galilee?” Liberman said there are those in the international community who “don’t intend to let us rest for a minute, and not to give us any credit on any agreement with the Palestinians, but rather immediately go on the attack.”
Lieberman said Israel has to create new foreign policy vectors – not to replace the US, he stressed, but rather in addition to it – with a special emphasis on Africa.
Israel, he said, in too many countries around the world is identified by conflict, terrorism, the Palestinian issue, and its stance on Iran. Fortunately, he said, Israel has in recent years been increasingly identified as the “Start-Up Nation.”
“But it is not enough,” he said.
“We must lead more green issues; highlight our ability to contribute to the international community, especially in hard places which struggle with issues of poverty, hunger, severe water shortages, and the like.”
Liberman said that Israel, as it did in the 1960s, needs to send its top diplomats and experts to Africa and be those “who solve problems, and not only create them.”
The foreign minister also said it is time for the Arab countries with whom Israel has ties to take those relations out of the closet.
“The main mistake we made in the past when we signed various agreements with states in the region, was that we signed them with the rulers, not with the states and the peoples,” he said. As a result, he said, an anomalous situation was created whereby on one hand Israel enjoys diplomatic relations with these countries – an apparent reference to Egypt and Jordan – but on the other hand among numerous sectors of the population, from the liberal to the radical religious elements, there is one consensus: a hatred and incitement against Israel.
Liberman said that Israel is always told to swallow this duality, because it must look at the reality of the situation on the ground, and understand that since the security cooperation is beneficial, to ignore the domestic animosity.
“As [former Mossad head] Meir Dagan once said, Israel in the region is like a mistress: everyone enjoys her but no one acknowledges a relationship with her.” Lieberman said it is time for Israel to demand diplomatic, and not only security, recompense for ties.
President Shimon Peres followed Liberman at the conference, and opened his remarks by joking that Liberman was trying to replace him “as the mature adult.”
Addressing the Palestinian issue, Peres said there are always problems and risks, but today there are great opportunities, “perhaps the biggest for Israel since we stood at Mount Sinai.”
For the first time, said Peres, who peppered his comments with reminiscences about David Ben-Gurion, “the Arabs don’t want to destroy us, but are rather thinking about a solution. They also understand that the biggest threat is Arab terrorism, which is a common threat for them and for us.”