By Juan Cole
There was a time when people like Avigdor Lieberman were not welcome in Israeli politics, or, indeed, in Jewish circles in the United States. Dogged by accusations of corruption (though acquitted in the Israeli courts) and widely considered a racist and flamethrower, Lieberman has emerged as Foreign Minister, a powerful cabinet post. There is no European cabinet minister who comes close to Lieberman’s far, far right positions, and if there were he or she would be boycotted by the other Europeans. Probably Hungary’s Jobbik (some 1/5 of parliament seats) comes closest to the themes of the ruling Israeli far right at the moment.
Lieberman denounced Sweden’s recognition of Palestine on Thursday, saying:
“The decision of the Swedish government to recognise a Palestinian state is a deplorable decision which only strengthens extremist elements and Palestinian rejectionism . . . It is a shame that the Swedish government chose to take this declarative step which causes a lot of harm and offers no advantage . . . The Swedish government must understand that relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA and that they have to act with responsibility and sensitivity.”
So Lieberman led a charge to reject the John Kerry peace process in 2013-2014, and Lieberman’s colleagues on the Israeli cabinet called Secretary Kerry “messianic” and said they wished he would leave them alone. That is, the “rejectionists” are the Israeli government, the leaders of which refuse to recognize Palestine. Palestine recognized Israel two decades ago, giving away this key card for the sake of initiating the Oslo Peace process, which Israeli leaders such as Binyamin Netanyahu derailed, stealing ever more Palestinian territory on the Occupied West Bank and planting hundreds of thousands of Israeli squatters there, far beyond the recognized borders of Israel.
As for extremism, here are Lieberman’s positions:
‘ # In 1998, Lieberman called for the flooding of Egypt by bombing the Aswan Dam in retaliation for Egyptian support for Yasser Arafat.
# In 2001, as Minister of National Infrastructure, Lieberman proposed that the West Bank be divided into four cantons, with no central Palestinian government and no possibility for Palestinians to travel between the cantons.
# In 2002, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth quoted Lieberman in a Cabinet meeting saying that the Palestinians should be given an ultimatum that “At 8am we’ll bomb all the commercial centers … at noon we’ll bomb their gas stations … at two we’ll bomb their banks …”
# In 2003, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Lieberman called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide the buses to take them there.
# In May 2004, Lieberman proposed a plan that called for the transfer of Israeli territory with Palestinian populations to the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, Israel would annex the major Jewish settlement blocs on the Palestinian West Bank. If applied, his plan would strip roughly one-third of Israel’s Palestinian citizens of their citizenship. A “loyalty test” would be applied to those who desired to remain in Israel. This plan to trade territory with the Palestinian Authority is a revision of Lieberman’s earlier calls for the forcible transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel from their land. Lieberman stated in April 2002 that there was “nothing undemocratic about transfer.”
# Also in May 2004, he said that 90 percent of Israel’s 1.2 million Palestinian citizens would “have to find a new Arab entity” in which to live beyond Israel’s borders. “They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost,” he said.
# In May 2006, Lieberman called for the killing of Arab members of Knesset who meet with members of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.’ ”
Now that’s extreme. And it doesn’t even cover all Lieberman’s outrageous comments of the past 8 years.
As for Sweden, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström observed, “We are not picking sides. We’re choosing the side of the peace process… The government believes that the international law criteria for the recognition of the State of Palestine has been met. There is a territory, there is a population and there is a government”.
Responding to journalist Hala Gorani concerning Lieberman’s crack about Ikea, Wallström is said to have remarked:
Sweden FM Wallstrom tells me she'd be happy to send Israel FM Lieberman an Ikea flat pack bc he'll see it requires cooperation and a manual.
— Hala Gorani (@HalaGorani) October 30, 2014