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Lieberman: demonstrate your credibility

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Monday, 7 November 2016


I am skeptical of what Israel's Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman says as I have judged him only by his actions. For the Palestinians, however, to immediately dismiss what he said in an interview with the Palestinian daily al-Quds - that he supports a two-state solution and would lift Israel's blockade of Gaza if Hamas relinquishes its military stance - is shortsighted and self-destructive at best. And by rejecting Lieberman's offer, Hamas is doing nothing but further worsening the plight of the Palestinians living under its rule, forfeiting yet another opportunity to end a conflict that they cannot ever win on their terms. The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, who perhaps for good reason do not trust Lieberman, should at a minimum call his bluff, if he is indeed bluffing.

Instead of putting Lieberman to the test, the Palestinian Authority chose to denounce what he is offering as if it were a forgone conclusion that Lieberman and his government are simply engaged in public posturing. But even if this was the case, why reject off-hand any offer which only plays into the hands of the extreme right-of-center political parties in Israel? As they see it, the Palestinians are simply unwilling to accept Israel's right to exist, and anything else they publicly state to the contrary is only for international consumption.

Given that both sides have been engaged for decades in public acrimony against one another, they have created an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and distrust. As a result, they have systematically alienated successive Israeli and Palestinian governments and the general public from one another, thus dooming any overture by either side, however well-intentioned and sincere it may be.

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In response to Lieberman's statement, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry accused him of spreading lies, stating "Lieberman declares himself to be in favor of a two-state solution, while taking pride in being a settler and legitimizing the continued building of settlements and the Judaization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem."

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry further blames Lieberman for trying to create a schism between the Palestinian people (i.e. Hamas vs. PA), when in fact no outsider can rival the Palestinians' propensity to create and perpetuate their own internal schisms.

Whereas I take what Lieberman stated with a large grain of salt, I believe that the Palestinian Authority should challenge him to offer some practical steps to demonstrate his true intentions. Instead, they opted to attack the newspaper al-Quds for publishing the interview, determined to stifle any public discussion on such critical issues, even when there is a desperate need to change the acrimonious public narrative.

Lieberman, like most Israelis, has long since concluded that the status quo is not sustainable. When he talks about a two-state solution, he is not promoting that for the sake of the Palestinians, but for the preservation of Israel as a secure Jewish state.

Yes, the Palestinians have every right to disagree with his vision about the final contours of a future Palestinian state and its demographic composition, as he (like Prime Minister Netanyahu) envisions that any future Palestinian state will end up with a significant Jewish minority.

But whether or not the Palestinians accept such an eventuality, any peace proposal put on the table should be entertained if for no other reason than to prevent the appearance of being rejectionist and uncompromising.

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Thus, any effort made by either side to change the public narrative and promote a process of reconciliation between the two sides that could foster trust and mitigate the prevailing sense of insecurity must not be rejected-especially since both sides claim to seek a peace agreement based on a two-state solution.

In connection with Gaza, Lieberman's offer must be taken at face value. Anyone who understands Israel's position regarding Gaza knows that it has no interest in engaging in another futile war against Hamas, or reoccupying the territory and assuming the burden of caring for nearly two million Palestinians.

This is precisely why late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to unilaterally withdraw Israelis forces from the Strip, as well as evacuate the settlers. As the newly-appointed Defense Minister, Lieberman studied carefully the pitfalls of another war against Hamas and decided to take a different approach from a position of strength.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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