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Lieberman: Demonstrate Your Credibility

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Message Alon Ben-Meir
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What Lieberman is offering Hamas is practical from the Israeli perspective and even more practical from Hamas' standpoint. While Hamas wants Israel to lift the blockade, it still wants to be in a position to threaten Israel's very existence.

The illusion that still possesses Hamas' leadership is that someday, somehow, they will manage to destroy Israel, even though they know only too well that they cannot now or at any time in the future hope to pose an existential threat to Israel and live to see the day.

The vast majority of the two million Palestinians in Gaza live in poverty, the young have no future, the old are despondent and despairing, and all are being held hostage by Hamas to serve its delusional design.

Meanwhile, Hamas is squandering hundreds of millions of dollars to buy more rockets, build tunnels, and prepare for the next war that promises to invite devastation, the likes of which Hamas has not yet seen. Hamas would be wise to take Lieberman's warning seriously -- that "If they [Hamas] impose the next war on Israel, it will be their last."

"If Hamas," as Lieberman stated, "stops digging tunnels, rearming and firing rockets, we will lift the blockade and build the airport by ourselves." This is not a rhetorical gesture on Lieberman's part. He is focusing on a process of reconciliation -- government-to-government -- which is sine qua non to reaching a durable peace agreement at a later date.

I fully subscribe to the notion that the conditions on the ground today are not conducive to solving all conflicting issues between the two sides. A process of reconciliation should first take place, and Lieberman's offer must be viewed in that context, which is the only way the Palestinians could potentially realize their aspiration to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza.

Given Lieberman's past record and public statements against the Palestinians, they have good reason to be extremely suspicious of whatever he says or does. The onus now falls on Lieberman to demonstrate that he is sincere about his offer.

For Lieberman to lend credibility to his plans and the concessions he is preparing to make, he should share it with Turkey and Qatar and urge them to use their influence on Hamas to persuade it not to be dismissive of Lieberman's opening.

The same can be said about the involvement of a few European countries, especially France and Britain, in playing a constructive role between the two sides. This approach will put Israel in a better standing, as it is regularly criticized by the EU as being the intransigent party in the conflict.

Moreover, should Hamas accept Lieberman's offer, it would open the door to removing Hamas from the list of terrorist organizations that would encourage many countries, specifically in the European Union, to invest in Gaza, which could over a few years turn the Strip from an impoverished land into a thriving entity.

It takes a strong and determined leader to go against the current, and only by engaging Lieberman will the Palestinians be able not only to test his credibility, but change the discourse of a seven decades-old all-consuming conflict.

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Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. His dedication to writing about, analyzing, and (more...)
 

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