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Liberman's first task: End Gaza's suffering

If Liberman truly wants to keep Israelis safe, he will to do whatever he can to ensure that Gaza’s residents can lead normal lives.

By Noam Rabinovich

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and newly appointed defense minister Avigdor Liberman sign new coalition agreement, May 25, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and newly appointed defense minister Avigdor Liberman sign new coalition agreement, May 25, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

What will Avigdor Liberman’s first week as defense minister look like?

One might imagine he would begin by introducing himself to the staff, getting acquainted with the office, making some coffee (or tea, to each their own) and going over some emails. Then, one might assume and hope, he will get down to the business of security and managing the occupation. After all, the defense minister’s job description includes ensuring the well-being of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories.

No issue is more urgent than Gaza, which – as the United Nations’ Mideast peace envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, noted last week – remains “desperate and highly volatile.”

Liberman certainly has a few ideas of his own. This past April he threatened to assassinate Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh, an act that would undoubtedly have brought about another round of hostilities. During 2014’s Operation Protective Edge he advocated re-occupying the entire Gaza Strip. When he was deputy prime minister and strategic affairs minister in May 2007, Liberman presented his plan to isolate Gaza from the West Bank, a plan he doubled down on in August 2014 as the country’s foreign minister.

It is sometimes said that there are no bad ideas when brainstorming, but let’s dispense with that fiction here and now – these are bad ideas.

A small girls waits with her family at the Rafah border crossing hoping to leave the Gaza Strip into Egypt, February 13, 2016. (Ezz Al Zanoon/Activestills.org)

A small girls waits with her family at the Rafah border crossing hoping to leave the Gaza Strip into Egypt, February 13, 2016. (Ezz Al Zanoon/Activestills.org)

Another option – dare I say it, the better option – would be to defer to the expertise of the senior professional ranks of the military and security services. One hopes that a new minister – any minister — would start by consulting the people who are in charge of Israel’s security and inquire as to their opinions on the pressing issues at hand. Call it a professional courtesy.

Liberman might choose to begin by making a call to the IDF chief of staff.  If he does so, Gadi Eisenkot will likely repeat the statements he made to to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in June 2015, when he said (Hebrew) that the military is trying to improve Gaza’s economy.

Or perhaps Eisenkot will tell Liberman the same thing he reportedly told Alex Fishman of Yedioth Aharonot: “The [chief of staff’s policy] relies on two principles: trying to hold back Hamas’ rising strength and, at the same time, doing everything to bring hope to the Gaza Strip, so they have something to lose. Eizenkot supports helping Gaza’s reconstruction. For instance, he does not rule out the idea of a remote port that would serve the people of Gaza, in Cyprus for instance. On this point, he agrees with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai – a member of his closest circle. Both believe that the more hope there is, the more a confrontation can be kept at bay.”

A bulldozer is used to clear up some of the rubble in one of the destroyed quarter of Shujayea, east of Gaza city, February 11, 2015. Six month after the ceasefire that ended the Israeli 2014 summer offensive, 100, 000 Palestinians are still displaced and many live in very dire conditions. Rebuilding materials are scarce as the Gaza Strip face restrictions imposed by Israel.  Activestills.org

A bulldozer is used to clear up some of the rubble in one of the destroyed quarter of Shujayea, east of Gaza city, February 11, 2015. (photo: Activestills.org)

Liberman could also turn to his predecessor, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, for his take on Gaza. Ya’alon will likely refer to his statements of September 2015, when he said (Hebrew) Israel is attempting to revive the economy by allowing the entrance of construction materials and other goods, not to mention his comments in October 2014, when he argued (Hebrew) that Gaza’s reconstruction is in Israel’s interest, as it will open the door to some hope, and allow people in Gaza to live in dignity and make a living.

In fact, over the past year and a half, numerous officials have drawn a connection between Gaza’s reconstruction and regional stability. Soon after the end of Operation Protective Edge, the rhetoric of senior Israeli officials about Gaza’s residents and their needs changed markedly. Former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, IDF chief intelligence officer Eli Ben-Meir, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai (Hebrew) are among those who recognized that Gaza’s reconstruction is in Israel’s interest, and made public statements stressing that giving Gaza residents a horizon would contribute to regional stability and may even prevent another conflict in the near future.

Israeli politicians, from MK Ofer Shelah to Education Minister Naftali Bennett, have also made statements to that effect. Even Liberman’s new boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, boasted (Hebrew) of Israel’s efforts to reconstruct Gaza as a means of preventing another violent escalation.

Smoke rises above the sea port of Gaza city after an Israeli attacked builldings of fishermen, Gaza city, July 29, 2014.  (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Smoke rises above the sea port of Gaza City following Israeli airstrikes, Gaza City, July 29, 2014. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

There is an almost complete consensus among Israeli officials that can be summed up in one sentence: the continued chokehold on Gaza’s economy is dangerous for Israel. In other words, not only is there no dichotomy between human rights and Israel’s security interests (Hebrew), in fact, upholding the rights of Gaza residents is essential for security.

Liberman has been called many things by many people, but one self-declared element of his personality seems to rise above the babble: he calls himself a man of action. Great, because one thing that’s been missing are actions to match the Israeli establishment’s rhetoric. If Liberman is truly committed to enhancing the security of Israelis and to contributing to regional stability, he would be well advised to heed his advisors and his colleagues and act to help Gaza residents recover and lead normal lives.

Noam Rabinovich is Director of International Relations at Gisha, an NGO that promotes freedom of movement for Palestinians into and out of Gaza. This article represents her own views.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      @Kohen: as far as international law is concerned Israel is occupying Gaza; they control the borders, the birth registry, who and what moves in and out, where people can fish, etc. Just because there are no permanently stationed soldiers does not means that Gaza is not occupied. What people would put up with this arrangement?

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        Let me understand this, Bruce. The way for the HAMAS regime to get Israel to modify its policy towards Gaza is to dig attack tunnels into Israel, fire rockets indiscriminately into Israel and use its propaganda organs to encourage Arabs to kill any Jew they encounter, right? How many Israeli are willing to put up with THAT arrangement? What if, after Israel pulled out of Gaza that had NOT done these things and had worked out peaceful commerce with Israel. Maybe their situation wouldn’t be so dire?

        Reply to Comment
        • carmen

          Soldiers aren’t innocent bystanders and neither are colonists living on Palestinian land. Whine about israelis to someone who cares. Gaza has been under the lock and key of the IOF for years; it has been called the largest outdoor prison in the world by human rights groups and the UN. How many Jews would put up with that way of life? How can you even dare to complain or piss your pants about the safety and security of israelis? Seriously? Did you read the article at all? Your hasbara is so old its a pensioner with a beard.

          Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            Carmen, what you are saying is going to prevent any chance for peace. By your justification of the murder of Israelis you are encouraging the Palestinians to think that they have no need to reach a COMPROMISE peace. What you are doing is saying YOU are willing to fight to the last PALESTINIAN. It is we Israelis who are going to make the decisions. The non-negotiable demands of the Palestinians which your are parroting convince the large majority of us Israelis that there is nothing to be gained by further concessions.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Nonsense. The Palestinians have made and will make huge concessions. It’s already built in. You think withdrawing a brutal illegal occupation is a “concession.” You’ve already won but it’s not good enough for you. You’ve ruled out anything reasonable from the get go by insisting on a fake “unity” of a fake “eternal” Jerusalem as some kind of glorious, nationalistic racially-bestowed God given right. And you’ve already killed the deal by insisting you just gotta have a little suburb with swimming pools in Ariel, and Ma’aleh Adumim. The decision makers, in your way of having things, will increasingly not be the Israelis. Because the Israelis as well as the Palestinians after five decades of nonsense have proven they can’t be left to themselves to decide anything. Wiley E. Kohen here is a prime example of the “few wild weeds” you’ve lovingly nurtured and that have now spread like any weeds left unchecked into a jungle. You have delusions of pluripotentiality. You still think you’re in complete control and have lots of options. Your biggest delusion is to think Israelis have not already made fatal choices. Because what you have left is a choice between one state apartheid and one state democracy. If you think the world and will not increasingly see “South Africa” when they read “Israel” you’re not dealing with reality.

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            Oh come on. Israelis have shown no willingness to do anything except test new weapons on civilian populations. The fear expressed by yourself and others (most prominently netanyahoo and co) has no basis in reality and makes the zionist state an incompatible partner for peace. I wonder how you would be sounding if you’d up watching your family homes destroyed, villages and towns disappeared, and the loss of innumerable family and friends and your way of life to make way for all the cowboys moving in squat on your land, metastasizing like a xenophobic, messianic, nationalistic tumor on what was your land, laughably referred by israelis many forked tongue politicians, as land meant for a future Palestinian state? Don’t act as if the anger expressed against the zionist state came from nowhere. I have nothing but admiration for the Palestinian people and wonder every single day at their self-restraint in the face of the language of their oppressors, which has been and continues to only be violence. Liberman, the “bouncer” polictician, and Yehuda Glick, a let’s have a sacrifice! ex New Yorker. Yes, I can see why you’d be in a hurry to continue to prop up this mess.

            Reply to Comment
          • Mark

            With 25 million inhabitants I think you’ll find North Korea is the largest open air prison by far. They also have a belligerent leadership more interested in itself than its citizens, though admittedly they did not actually choose it through free and fair elections.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Mark

      The policy of refusing to “normalise” relations with Israel has the result of normalising the dire circumstances in which many Palestinians currently live. Presumably the many Arabs living in WB and Gaza who are not classed as refugees have no claim on returning to their former homes in what is now Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      @Kohen: Your lecture about high contracting parties, like so much else, is hogwash. The settler “enterprise” has always depended on disinformation. Educate yourself:

      “The West Bank and Gaza are viewed by virtually all international legal experts as “occupied territory.” Since 1967, legal experts, including in Israel, have been virtually unanimous in recognizing this. The fact that….”

      Reply to Comment
    4. Carmen

      Yishai – Jews were ethnically cleansed by Arabs? How? By what army? Please provide the evidence for this claim. BTW, it isn’t your land, get out of their land and see if there isn’t peace.

      Reply to Comment