Liberman calls for transfer of Arab Israelis
Judah Ari Gross, Times of Israel, Sep 13 2016
Defense Minister Avigdor ‘Yvette’ Liberman called Monday for the transfer of some of Israel’s Arab population to a future Palestinian state as part of any peace plan, in an apparent split with Netanyahu who last week claimed “no one would seriously” consider such a move. Liberman said, during a question and answer session at Ariel University in the West Bank:
I don’t see a reason why the ‘Triangle’ and Umm al-Fahm need to be a part of Israel.
While the defense minister said he was in favor of “swapping lands and populations” as part of a future peace deal with Palestinians, he appeared to be speaking specifically about transferring entirely Arab cities and their populations to a future Palestinian state, and not necessarily expelling Arab Israelis who live in predominantly Jewish municipalities, as some other hawkish Israeli politicians have encouraged. The defense minister claimed that the country’s Arab population “demand more and more autonomy,” and identified less as Israelis and more as Palestinians. Liberman also said he did not see why Israeli citizens needed to pay the salaries of Arab MKs Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka when they regularly spoke out against the country, a remark which drew considerable applause from the audience. This “lands and populations” transfer was not a new position for Liberman. It has been a central aspect of his peace plan since 2004, but Monday marks the first time he publicly stated the belief since becoming defense minister in May. Liberman’s remarks also came just a few days after Netanyahu released a video claiming Palestinian leaders called for the “ethnic cleansing” of the West Bank as a condition for peace, a claim Liberman reiterated. Netanyahu said Israel had no such intention of doing the same with its own Arab population. Netanyahu said in the video posted Friday on his Facebook page:
No one would seriously claim that the nearly two million Arabs living inside Israel, that they’re an obstacle to peace. That’s because they aren’t.
Liberman’s comments seemed to run counter to claims made by the prime minister in the video. The defense minister on Monday also discussed the trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, who shot dead a supine, disarmed Palestinian assailant in Hebron in March. Israel must support its soldiers under any circumstances, “even if one of them makes a mistake,” he said, referring specifically to Azaria’s case. At the end of the day, Liberman stressed, “we are talking about 18-, 19-year-olds.” Liberman, who prior to becoming defense minister, vocally supported Azaria, has dialed back his rhetoric since taking the position. He said:
We should remember, all of us, including members of the media, public figures and politicians, that until you are convicted in court, you are innocence.
This is especially true when you are dealing with soldiers who are on a mission, Liberman said. The trial of Azaria has gripped many in Israel for months, with predominantly right-wing supporters of the soldier calling him a “hero,” while detractors claim the shooting was an extrajudicial execution. The defense minister said he expects that the military court trying Azaria to “ignore the noise from the left and from the right,” when it hands down its decision. Attacks against the military itself should be considered out of bounds in the public discourse, he said:
If someone has an issue with the army, they need to turn to the defense minister. We need to leave the army out of political arguments. We can’t attack those in uniform, even when we disagree with them.
The defense minister also reiterated his stance that Israel would have to evacuate the Amona outpost in the West Bank, home to some 40 families, since it was largely constructed on privately owned Palestinian land, he said. Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered it demolished by the end of the year.