(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, charged with presenting the government with a recommendation as to what Israel's policy should be toward the northern border town of Ghajar, visited the area Wednesday, but made more news talking about UAL-Ta'al MK Ahmed Tibi than about the future of the town.
"Our central problem is not the Palestinians, but Ahmed Tibi and his ilk - they are more dangerous than Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad combined," Lieberman said.
He was referring to Tibi's speech Tuesday at the Fatah General Assembly in Bethlehem, in which Tibi declared that the Arab citizens of Israel were an inseparable part of the Palestinian people and that not a single settler could remain in any future Palestinian state.
Lieberman said that whoever had listened to the Fatah conference understood that the problem was not the words of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but Tibi's remarks.
"Tibi's speech is in total contradiction to the Declaration of Independence, which talks about the renewal of the Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael," he said, adding, "The country has to decide whether it is a democracy that will defend itself, or a suicidal one."
Lieberman made the comments while on a tour of Ghajar and the Mount Dov area before presenting his recommendations to the security cabinet on how Israel should resolve the Ghajar issue.
Ghajar is a town of some 2,000 residents that straddles the Lebanese border. When the IDF pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, the UN determined that the border ran through the middle of Ghajar. Following the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Israel maintained a military presence in the northern part of the town and built a security fence around it.
Some 1,500 residents live in the northern part of the town, and another 500-700 are in the southern part.
UN, European and American officials have been urging Israel to move out of northern Ghajar to help bolster the moderates in Lebanon. An Israeli withdrawal would be in line with commitments it made as part of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which put an end to the 2006 fighting.
Lieberman is believed to be in favor of building a physical barrier on the international border that divides the city in half, and turning the northern part of the city over to UNIFIL control. Those living on the Lebanese side of the border would have the option of either moving to the Israeli half, or coming under Lebanese sovereignty.
Lieberman, who met with the head of the local council and a number of townspeople opposed to this plan, issued a statement following his tour, saying that Israel needed to be guided by two principles in determining its policy on Ghajar: security considerations and humanitarian ones.
He said he had not yet made up his mind about his recommendation, and that he would try to take into account the will of the residents "as much as possible."