Avigdor Lieberman is the recently appointed minister of strategic affairs and deputy prime minister of Israel. As the leader of Yisrael Beytenu, the party he founded, his faction holds 11 seats, making it the fifth largest in parliament with almost 10 percent of the total seats. Polls show that he is the second most popular Israeli politician, after Benjamin Netanyahu, with current Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert ranking fifth. Minister Lieberman addressed the Middle East Forum on December 12, 2006. The following is an account of his briefing, as reported in the New York Sun.
Israel's Lieberman Calls for Tougher Stance on Israeli Arabs
by Ira Stoll
New York Sun
December 13, 2006
The deputy prime minister of Israel, Avigdor Lieberman, is calling for a tougher stance toward Israeli Arabs.
Mr. Lieberman outlined his views at a luncheon session in New York yesterday organized by the Middle East Forum, and afterward in an interview with The New York Sun and other journalists.
"The conflict includes not only the Arabs in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, but Israeli Arabs also," Mr. Lieberman said. "The linkage between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Arab population — it will destroy us, it is impossible. What is the logic of creating one and a half country for one people and a half country for the Jewish people?"
Mr. Lieberman spoke of requiring Israelis to sign a commitment to loyalty to the Israeli flag and to its national anthem, and of requiring service in the army or alternative national service. Citizens who refuse to sign the declaration, he said, could continue as permanent residents of Israel, working, studying, and receiving health care benefits, but they could not vote in national elections or be elected to national office.
"It's not racism," Mr. Lieberman said. "The test is loyalty, not their religion." He said he would also deny Israeli citizenship to extreme anti-Zionist Orthodox Jewish groups, such as the Neturei Karta, which sent representatives to this week's Holocaust denial conference in Tehran.
Mr. Lieberman said the "close linkage" between Israeli Arabs and the Arabs of the Palestinian Authority is a result of Israeli "weakness."
"If we will be more strong, more tough, they will be more loyal," he said. "They are really afraid about their future."
He defended his statement that Israeli Arab parliamentarians who went to Damascus and met with Hamas should be shot, and he said Americans would understand that position. He asked whether one could imagine an American congressman or senator going to Tora Bora during the war in Afghanistan and meeting with Osama bin Laden, then returning to a seat in Congress.
Still, Mr. Lieberman said, Israel's main problem is not Israeli Arabs, "it's Israeli Jews." He noted that the country has had 10 foreign ministers and seven defense ministers in the past 11 years as fragile political coalitions have collapsed and elections have been called. "It's impossible to establish any policy under these conditions," he said.
On the Iranian threat, Mr. Lieberman said Iran's nuclear ambitions are "the biggest threat" to Jewry since World War II. "Ahmadinejad is not a rational player," he said of the Iranian president. "Any attempt to pacify him is like before the second World War in Europe."
On the Palestinian front, Mr. Lieberman said the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is not about territory or settlements or "occupation" but about values, a conflict between the West and the radical Islamic world.
He had harsh words for the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Mahmoud Abbas, the longtime aide to Yasser Arafat who is also known as Abu Mazen. The Bush administration has depicted Mr. Abbas as a partner for peace with the Israelis and as more moderate and secular than his political rivals, the Islamist terrorist group Hamas.
"I don't think that Abu Mazen is the right partner. I think that he is the biggest obstacle," Mr. Lieberman said. "Abu Mazen, he is excellent for declaration, but when he must deliver the goods, he is incompetent."
As an alternative, Mr. Lieberman suggested that Israel work with the "new generation" of Palestinian Arabs who were educated in America and in Europe. He also said Israel should coordinate any agreements it makes concerning the West Bank with Jordan and concerning the Gaza Strip with Egypt.
Mr. Lieberman said Israeli concessions have been interpreted as gestures of weakness, not of good will.
He sketched the framework of a possible agreement with Syria, saying that before any such accord was reached, Damascus would have to close down the headquarters of any terrorist organizations based there. "We can lease the Golan Heights for 99 years," he said.
Polls show that Mr. Lieberman, who also serves as minister of strategic affairs, is the second-most popular politician in Israel. An immigrant from Moldova, he served in previous governments as minister of national infrastructure and minister of transportation. His Israel Beiteinu Party controls 11 seats in Israel's 120-member parliament. Though he started out as an Israeli labor leader, he has backed efforts to privatize Israeli state assets such as the national airline and the radio and television broadcasting authority.
He said the reception he has received has changed. "When I spoke even two, three years ago, everyone said, ‘You are radical, you are crazy,'" he said. Now, he says, people complain he isn't going far enough. One measure of the increasing seriousness with which Mr. Lieberman is being considered is that on his visit to America, a Lieberman with a more moderate reputation, the newly re-elected senator from Connecticut, made time for a meeting with him.