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Time to pressure Israel

April 23rd, 2009

In the coming months, Israel’s new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, will play a vital role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. With that in mind, consider the following statements that Lieberman has made over the years.

In 1998, in retaliation for Egyptian support of Yasser Arafat – the leader of the Palestinian Fatah political party – Lieberman called for the bombing of the Aswan Dam, which would have flooded Egypt and killed all 80 million Egyptians.

In 2002, during an Israeli cabinet meeting, he said that Palestinians should be given an ultimatum that “at 8 a.m. we’ll bomb all the commercial centers … at noon we’ll bomb their gas stations … at two we’ll bomb their banks.”

In 2003, he called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be drowned in the Dead Sea and even offered to provide the buses to take them there. What a guy.

In 2004, he said that 90 percent of Israel’s 1.2 million Palestinians would have to leave Israel. “They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost,” he said.

And in 2006, he said that all Arab members of the Israeli government who meet with members of the Palestinian Authority should be killed.

Is it any wonder why Israel feared it would be criticized at this week’s U.N. conference on racism?

Although rhetoric should not always be taken at face value, Lieberman – as foreign minister – is the face of Israeli foreign policy, and his words do not reflect the commitment to peace that will be needed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since taking office a few weeks ago, neither Lieberman nor Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has shown support for the two-state solution sought by most Palestinians, the United States and the United Nations.

Instead, Israel has continued its construction of settlements on Palestinian land, which only provokes more Palestinian attacks and decreases the chances of eventually establishing a Palestinian state.

Israel also has yet to repeal its devastating economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, which now suffers from an unemployment rate of at least 49 percent. With half of the population without jobs, is it any wonder that so many Gazans turn to Hamas for support?

In order for the situation to improve, the United States must take a tougher stand on Israel. With $3 billion in U.S. aid given to Israel every year, we have more influence on Netanyahu’s government than the United Nations or any other country.

President Obama should threaten to withhold this aid until Israel starts taking legitimate steps towards peace.

He should also include Hamas, which represents a large number of Palestinians, in any peace negotiations.

While Obama has stated that he is committed to a two-state solution, he has yet to even put any vocal pressure on Israel, let alone withhold aid.

A tougher stance on Israel may get results, or it may not. But you can be certain that if we keep our current strategy, conditions won’t improve, and we will see more of the same back-and-forth violence that has engulfed Israel for the past 60 years.