Liberman: Israel-Arab normalization first, then peace with Palestinians

"We must not accept a situation in which normalization with the Arab countries will be held hostage to [resolution of] the Palestinian issue,” says defense minister.

Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Avigdor Liberman
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Monday dismissed the possibility of a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that would end the conflict, just as US President Donald Trump has started to jump-start a peace process frozen for three years.
“The best-case scenario is to reach a long-term interim agreement,” Liberman said, addressing the meeting of the Knesset caucus on “a diplomatic vision for Gaza.”
Last week, Liberman told Channel 2 that Israel was closer than ever to a peace deal. On Monday, he honed his vision to explain that the best scenario would be for Israel to reach an agreement first with moderate Sunni Arab states, and only then to look toward a final deal with the Palestinians.
“We must not accept a situation in which normalization with the Arab countries will be held hostage to [resolution of] the Palestinian issue,” said Liberman.
Israel signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan that have held without ending the Palestinian conflict, he said, adding that normalized ties with the moderate Sunni states will create a “breakthrough” with regard to efforts in Judea and Samaria and Gaza.
These Arab states understand that the main threat they need to worry about is Hamas, al-Qaida, Hezbollah and the Islamic State, Liberman said.
“When I look at how the Palestinian Authority is being conducted, I see no sincerity, no real preparation for negotiations and a political settlement with the State of Israel. All I see is an attempt to manipulate us into a corner and hurt us as much as possible in the international arena. There is no intention of reaching any agreement, just putting all the burden on the State of Israel, all the blame, at best reaching a long-term interim agreement.”
Liberman spoke amid speculation that the Gaza electricity crisis could spark another war with Israel this summer.
“I have a clear strategy: development in exchange for demilitarization. The key here is patience, determination and consistency,” he said, noting that rocket fire from Gaza has significantly dropped. This year, there has been less violence from Gaza than in the last 50 years.
“I have no intention of initiating a military operation [in Gaza], nor do I intend to ignore any provocation,” Liberman said, adding that he would respond forcefully to any Palestinian attacks from Gaza.
“Hamas has to decide in what direction it wants to take the Strip: does it want it to make it into Mosul or Raqqa or transform it into Singapore,” he said.
Unlike past expressions – such as saying he’d “give [former Hamas head] Ismail Haniyeh 48 hours to give back the [captured soldiers’] bodies or he would die,” Liberman said that Yayah Sinwar, the new Hamas head in Gaza, has the option to choose a different path.
“He got out of prison, got married and had two kids,” he said.
“He now should choose whether he wants his kids to be martyrs living their life in tunnels, or to be doctors and engineers who could travel around the world with no limitations or troubles.”
Liberman recalled that Hamas is holding four Israelis hostage: Hadar Goldin, Oren Shaul, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.
Goldin and Shaul are IDF soldiers presumed to have been killed in the 2014 war, but their bodies have not been returned to Israel.
Mengistu and al-Sayed wandered into Gaza; both are believed to be suffering from mental illness.
Liberman said the Red Cross has not been allowed to check on the situation.
Israel left Gaza in 2005 and withdrew to the pre-1967 borders in search of peace, destroying 21 Jewish communities and forcibly “transferring” 10,000 Jews out of the Strip, said Liberman.
According to the defense minister, 99% of the conflicts in the Middle East are among the Arabs themselves and are not related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His goal, he said, was to provide “maximum security” to the Gaza periphery so it could experience “unprecedented prosperity.”