Thursday, April 30, 2009

Interviews With Israel's Foreign Minister

Two interesting interviews with Israel's new Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have recently come to publication. One comes from the Jerusalem Post and the Other from an Austrian newspaper, excerpts of which were translated on the blog Kishkushim.

The JPost interview covered a range of interesting subjects, but was generally a softball interview. No overly difficult or challenging questions were asked. Basically, the interviewer, without probing too profoundly, had Lieberman give an overview of his position on a variety of Israeli international interests.

Lieberman expresses his clear support for a two state solution and that neither he nor his government have any interest in governing people (Palestinians) who do not want to be governed by Israel. He explains his view of peace making efforts to date by citing treaties with Egypt, Jordan and Oslo as proof of Israel's desire for peace while lamenting that the withdrawal from Lebanon (the first time,) and Gaza, as well as offers made by Olmert and Barak were met with violence--rockets, the second intifada and so on. Lieberman asserts that the cause of conflict in the region today has nothing to do with the so-called "slogans" of occupation, settlements and land for peace because, he notes, that violence and terrorism existed prior to the 1967 war in which the territory was occupied and settled.

Lieberman sets out his three key pillars for peace in the region, these are security--for the Israelis from terrorism and for the Palestinians from internal, sectarian fighting. The economy, especially for Palestinians whose unemployment rate and average income Lieberman deplores. A solution he suggests be remedied by creating situations where the Palestinians can have jobs and provide for their families (somewhat disturbingly, he mentions how settlements can be major sources of employment for area Palestinians.) The last point is stability something Lieberman does not elaborate on. He does, however, note that in his view, Hamas was elected as a response to a corrupt alternative and provided an option that would not only offer political representation, but had social services as well. His logic for strengthening the Palestinian economy is to deny Hamas the "social services" niche in which to operate and generate support.

A few other points made in the interview worth noting are Lieberman's preference for the West Bank "model" of relations with the Palestinians as opposed to the Gaza model--read: no unilateral withdrawals. He also states that the right of return of even a single refugee to Israel proper from the West Bank is, in his view, a non-starter for final agreement negotiations with the Palestinians. Again, disturbingly he cites Cyprus as the model to be considered in the region, one where [paraphrasing] 'Greeks and Turks lived together, and then the populations were concentrated in separate areas and now there's peace.' Hopefully, he's not talking about population transfers. Finally, Lieberman argues that he sees no benefit in negotiations with Syria who are demanding that Israel relinquish the Golan Heights captured from that country in 1967 before discussing peace.

The Austrian interview contains many similar points from Lieberman, or, at the least the highlights from the "quick and dirty" translation on Kishkushim does. Lieberman repeats his point that terrorism existed before settlements were built in the West Bank and that support for projects that can rebuild the Palestinian economy (as opposed to just proving money to the Palestinian people) will bring an improved economic situation and increased stability. He also makes the same points about Hamas and the reason for Hamas' election.

In much of what he says in these two interviews, Lieberman comes off sounding rather reasonable. A two state solution, check. Economic development for the Palestinians, check. Addressing core causes of conflict that go beyond the settlements, check. Security for Israelis, check. Nonetheless, he still gives the reader pause for some concern. No negotiations with Syria, his comment about settlements being sources of employment for Palestinians, the total separation he advocates in the Cypriot example are not exactly encouraging. Lieberman commented in the JPost that this new government would take the initiative in peace negotiations. Let's hope so, and lets also hope, as this blog suggested previously that until a clear policy is articulated by this new Israeli government, that Lieberman is still speaking for himself and that Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, remains the most authoritative voice and that Lieberman is still just one to keep an eye on.


Noah K said...

Really interesting stuff. It is indeed startling to hear Cyprus spoken of as a model. I mentioned on our blog that Benny Morris, I believe it was, told a lecture audience here at Berkeley that Ben Gurion was obsessed with the transfer solution of Greece and Turkey in the 1920s. From what I can see of the Austrian interview as well, Lieberman is pretty cavalier with his historical examples. Whether or not they help form compelling arguments for his policy positions, it seems to me significant that he is so often making recourse to "history." I wonder where that is coming from? Certain think tanks? Also, the notion that the settlements are part of a bulwark against terrorist violence rather than an incitement to it, is for me so out there, so discredited by this point.

Steve Lieblich said...

What's "disturbing" about noting that Jewish towns on the est bank could be a source of employment for Arabs?

It's time to abandon the ridiculous accepted wisdom that "settlements are an obstacle to peace". After all if we can peacefully co-exist, then there's no reason that the Jews need to be expelled from settlements that have been inhabited by Jews for thousands of years....

Steve Lieblich said...

The only reason that Jewsih settlements might be an obstacle to peace, is if they might be surrounded by hateful, violent neighbours which case treat the disease: the hatred, and incitement to violence.

And, by the way, the right for jews to settle anywhere west of the Jordan River is enshrined permanently and irrevocably in international law. See

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

Steve and Noah, thank you both for commenting.

I've always thought it was potentially dangerous to make comparisons between Arab-Israeli conflict and conflicts anywhere else in the world in looking for solutions because the Israeli case is so unique and so complicated that its reality is not really duplicated anywhere else. Drawing solutions from situations with different realities could result in disastrous consequences. I think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a unique solution, not recourse to models from the past.

I've never read Morris, but it's on my reading list. Also, I don't claim to know much about Cyprus, but if actual population transfers did occur there, it's concerning that this is something an Israeli government may consider.

As for the sense that settlements can be and have been removed in the past, I agree that they are not an insurmountable obstacle to peace. Because violence existed long before 1967, I also agree that settlements are not the only cause of violence. On the other hand, the resentment they breed, the resources required to maintain them, and the acts of some of the extremists in some of them is problematic.

In looking at the very interesting link Steve posted, a first question that comes to mind is, if the Mandate is still valid, why was the region partitioned in 1948? In reading more closely, what occurs to me is that the right of Jews to settle in the West Bank may be protected, but the right of Israel to have sovereignty over them is a different story.

My reading of Steve's posting combined with the fact of partition in 1948 suggests to me that Jews may have a legal right to settle anywhere in the Mandate area, but Israel is only legally entitled to sovereignty over the 1948 borders, or whatever else it can negotiate.

The reason that settlements are illegal is that they are sovereign Israeli villages and the Geneva conventions prohibit the moving of one’s citizens into areas occupied in war.

All this being said, I always thought it bizarre that it seems to be one of the conditions of a Palestinian state is that there be no Jews in it.

Because of the problems settlements cause, because of the drain on resources they place on Israeli society and because a significant portion of the Israeli population do not support them, it's disturbing that Lieberman thinks these are good sources of employment because it implies that he may want to build more of them to further his goals of improving the Palestinian economy.