Middle East

Israel’s next Gaza war will be ‘last’ one: Lieberman

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday that Israel's next war with Gaza militants would be their last "because we will completely destroy them," but added he remains committed to a two-state solution.

Lieberman, speaking in an interview with Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, said however that he did not want another war in Gaza, which would be the fourth since 2008.

The outspoken former foreign minister urged Palestinians to pressure Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, to "stop your crazy policies".

"As minister of defence, I would like to clarify that we have no intention of starting a new war against our neighbours in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, Lebanon or Syria," he told the Jerusalem-based newspaper.

Criticising Abbas

"But in Gaza, like the Iranians, they intend to eliminate the state of Israel… If they impose the next war on Israel, it will be their last. I would like to emphasise again: It will be their last confrontation because we will completely destroy them."

Lieberman is part of what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israeli history, with several prominent members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition openly opposing a Palestinian state.

But while he lives in a West Bank settlement and is known as a security-minded hardliner, Lieberman believes in a two-state solution to the conflict based on land swaps.

He reiterated that position in the interview, saying he sees the main settlement blocks in the occupied West Bank remaining part of Israel under a final peace deal.

He raised the possibility of trading Arab areas of Israel on the edge of the northern West Bank, such as the city of Umm al-Fahm, in exchange for settlements.

Land swaps have long been part of proposals to resolve the decades-old conflict, but the two sides remain far apart on issues such as the status of Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees.

Peace efforts have been at a complete standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.

'Sermons and lies'

"Today, I think the majority of our people do not believe it is possible to reach any agreement regarding the final status solution, and the same with the Palestinians," said Lieberman.

"The first step would be convincing the people it is possible by making serious improvements in the state of the economy and fighting unemployment, poverty and misery among the Palestinians. And for Israelis, provide security without terrorism or bloodshed for a while."

He spoke of a period of three years without violence and with economic improvement in the Palestinian territories as being capable of leading to progress.

Lieberman, who took office in May, also criticised Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, accusing him of failing to make compromises.

He predicted Abbas would lose if elections were held, with polls showing most Palestinians would like the 81-year-old to resign.

Such elections could lead to Hamas taking power in the West Bank, where Abbas's secular Fatah party dominates, but Lieberman said he believed a different outcome was possible.

"There are enough sensible people in the (Palestinian Authority) who understand the situation and know if there is a choice to make between Hamas and Israel, they think partnering with Israel will be better for them," said the leader of the hardline nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Is Our Home) party.

Lieberman has recently spoken of trying to bypass Palestinian leaders and reach out directly to communities, and his interview appeared to be part of that effort.

Al-Quds, the top-selling paper in the Palestinian territories, was heavily criticised on social media by Palestinians who say it should not have agreed to the interview as it amounted to sanctioning "normalisation" with an occupying power.

The Palestinian foreign ministry accused Lieberman of "promoting a bunch of sermons and lies that contradict signed agreements and violate international law."

Before taking over as defence minister, Lieberman made a series of controversial statements, including one directed at Ismail Haniya, Hamas's Gaza leader.

Lieberman said he would give Haniya 48 hours to hand over two detained Israeli civilians and the bodies of soldiers killed in a 2014 war "or you're dead".

He has since backed off and said he is committed to "responsible, reasonable policy".

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