A report in Makor Rishon quotes sources close to the nascent Donald Trump administration as being highly critical of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman for his comments last week on avoiding building outside the settlement blocs. The sources were quoted as criticizing Liberman for “cutting us off from the left” even before Trump has named his cabinet or announced his policy on Israeli building in Yehudah and Shomron.
“Apparently the Israelis have not absorbed the enormity of this opportunity,” the report quoted the sources as saying. “The new administration is prepared to go very far in its support of Israeli, including even agreeing to annex the settlement blocs.”
It was the blocs that were in the news last week, as Liberman sought to pour cold water on what he said was the “over-enthusiasm” of the Israeli right over the election of Trump. Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home), for example, said that Trump’s victory “is a marvelous opportunity for Israel to immediately pull back from the idea of establishing a Palestinian state in the heartland of the Jewish people, a major danger to Israeli security and to the truth of our path. Such directness is the credo of the elected president, and it should also be our credo. This is the end of the era of the concept of a Palestinian state.”
But Liberman said that Israel needed to be more cautious. “If we get permission from the new administration to build inside the blocs, I think we need to grab it with both hands,” he said, citing the 2005 letter from then-president George W. Bush to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, expressing American acceptance of “new realities on the ground” which would obviate Israeli withdrawal from the settlement blocs. Liberman advocated getting American support for construction in those areas, while offering to freeze construction in areas beyond the security fence. “That may not be good for getting votes,” Liberman noted. “But if I can concentrate construction where 80 percent of the Jewish population lives and not build outside of the blocs – that is a good thing.”
However, the sources quoted in Makor Rishon cautioned Israel against being too cautious. “Liberman is forcing us into positions that are to the left of what we prefer,” they added. “We certainly can’t be seen as being more right-wing than the Israeli government.”