Right wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman startled a Tel Aviv audience when he said he would cede territory in favor of national unity. In his diplomatic speech he also endorsed US Secretary of State John Kerry as a true friend and advocated for a population swap as part of a final status agreement with the Palestinians.
At this point in the nine-month American led negotiation process, Liberman said, direct talks have broken down and each side is speaking solely with the United States. The framework documents that US Secretary of State John Kerry is working on, he said, will lay out the principles for direct talks.
Liberman who also heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party and is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s strongest coalition partner also said he opposed all efforts to bring down the government.
“When there is a dispute between the unity of the nation or the unity of the land, the nation’s unity is more important,” said Liberman as he spoke in Tel Aviv at the 75th anniversary event of Israel’s Industrial and Commercial Association.
He latter added, “I’m willing to give up territory in the name of national unity.”
Liberman has long espoused a two-state solution that calls for new Israeli borders based on a new map that would place Israeli Arab population centers in a Palestinian state and allow for Israeli to retain Israeli settlements.
Peace plans in the past, have also referenced this possibility, which is supported by international law, he said.
“This kind of population and territory swap should be part of a final status agreement,” he said.
“It’s not a utopian idea,” he said, its is both legal and historical.
Liberman said he believed Kerry was handling this phase of the peace process, which ends in April, in the right manner.
“We are not negotiating with the Palestinians. We are negotiating with the Americans and the Palestinians are negotiating with Americans. He is establishing principles that will allow for direct talks. You can not come to an agreement without direct negotiations with the other side. All we are discussing now is the principles to arrive at the opportunity to sit at the table to hold direct talks without an interlocutor,” Liberman said.
Of the secretary of state himself, Liberman said, “John Kerry is a true friend of Israel. I do not see the wisdom of transforming friends into enemies.”
It’s almost as if Israeli politicians are in a contest with each other as to who can make the most scathing comments about Kerry, he said.
That Israeli politicians do not agree with everything the secretary of state thinks, is not a secret and should not be leaked to the media, Liberman said.
American politicians are not members of the right wing organizations Beitar or Gush Emunim, he said.
“They have a right to an opinion that is different from me or from my cousin [Economic Minister Naftali] Bennett [Bayit Yehudi],” Liberman said.
He explained that he supported a two-state solution, but only on certain terms.
“We support making an agreement with the Palestinians, but we do not have to accept it any price. We don’t have to be suckers. It’s bad enough that we were suckers in the past,” he said.
Israel doesn’t plan to revisit the 2005 Gaza withdrawal in which it gave away land but received only missiles in return, Liberman said. That is why the security arrangements are so critical to any future agreement with the Palestinians, he said.
“When we speak of security it is to prevent the same kind of crazy reality that exists now,” he said.
On the looming threat of economic boycotts against Israel, Liberman said that the issue pre-dated the state and went back to at least 1921 when people in Jaffa were urged not to buy from Jewish shops. In 1945 the Arab League voted for a boycott against Jews and sanctions by countries and companies continued into the early 1990s, he said. Israel has persevered and will continue to do so, he said.
In 2013 exports to Europe grew by 8% and in 2014 it was able to participate in the Horizon 2020 program. It has joined and will continue to join important international organizations, he said. The Foreign Ministry he said is working combating the phenomenon, but keeping it in the headlines only adds fuel to the fire.
“We should not ignore the threat, but we should not get hysterical about it either,” he said.
The boycott is lead by weak groups, with little behind them, whose strongest playing card is our reaction, Lieberman said.
On politics he said, it is “irresponsible" to talk about bringing down this government, which elected only last year.
“This kind of talk is not serious and not responsible. This option does not exist. We won’t lend a hand to any coalition changes,” he said.
He attacked Bennett, stating, “I see him running to the microphones and not the opposition.” Bennett, he charged would not leave the coalition unless the state begins to evacuate settlers and bulldozers are destroying their homes.
He used the moment to attack Israeli Arab parliamentarians and state that those, like MK Ahmed Tibi, should be stripped of citizenship since they have nothing positive to say about Israel and they support its enemies such as Hamas and Hizbullah.
“I suggest that they go to Syria and Iraq,” Liberman said.
Of the Meretz party, he said, it needed to decide if it was a political Zionist organization or if its role was solely to support Israeli Arabs.
With respect to Netanyahu he wavered between supporting his stance in the peace process but stating that better and more courageous leadership was needed.
Looking to the future, he said that economy, not territory would be the basis for Israeli peace both with the Palestinians and the Arab world. The moderate Arab world has never been as open to Israel as it is today, Liberman said.
What is needed to secure Israel’s future and that of the Jewish people is for 3.5 million more Jews to immigrate to Israel, so that the state’s Jewish population reached 10 million.