During a speech at Israel’s Herzliya conference, aimed at discussing the country’s national policies, ultraright Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected the possibility of Palestinian refugees from historic Palestine, land which Israel was built on, being able to return to their lands within the 1967 borders, a right that is upheld by United Nations Resolution 194.
“We will not agree to the return of a single refugee to within the ‘67 borders,” Lieberman reportedly said. “There will never be another Prime Minister who makes propositions to Palestinians like Ehud Olmert did,” he added, referring to a 2008 peace proposal introduced by the former prime minister.
The right of return for Palestinian refugees is a central demand among Palestinians and their leadership. The demand also represents a powerful symbolic connection to their lands and homes they were displaced from, as many Palestinians still possess original keys to their homes that were consumed by the state of Israel 69 years ago.
According to Israeli media, Lieberman also said that an end to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict would “not solve the problems – it will make them worse,” and noted that Israel should first “reach a regional agreement with moderate Sunni states, and only then an agreement with the Palestinians.”
He also went on to question the legitimacy of Palestinian citizens of Israel being part of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, noting that the Joint List political bloc — representing parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset — refused to acquiesce to Zionist ideologies.
“The only place they don’t want to leave is Israel. Why? Because it’s good for them here,” he said, referring to Palestinian citizens of Israel, making up approximately 20 percent of the population, whose families lived on the lands of historic Palestine before the creation of the state of Israel.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), 66 percent of Palestinians who were living in British-Mandate Palestine in 1948 were expelled from historic Palestine and displaced from their homes and lands during the creation of Israel, referred to as the Nakba, or catastrophe, among Palestinians.
On the topic of Gaza, Lieberman reportedly said “I don’t think we need to get into it. It won’t end soon,” before calling the dire humanitarian situation in the besieged Palestinian territory an “intra-Palestinian crisis,” echoing statements made by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley who placed full blame of the dire humanitarian situation in the besieged Gaza Strip on Hamas, and absolved Israel of any responsibility for the ongoing crisis.
Lieberman also accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of attempting to influence Hamas to go to war with Israel by exacerbating the crisis in Gaza by cutting Palestinian Authority (PA) payments for electricity supplied to Gaza from Israel.
“Abbas is going to increase cuts and soon stop the payment of salaries in Gaza and the transfer of fuel to the strip as a two-pronged strategy: Hurt Hamas and drag it to war with Israel,” he reportedly said.
Lieberman’s statements came amid an attempted renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by right-wing US President Donald Trump.
Most recently, on Wednesday evening, a meeting was held between Abbas and Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner in the central occupied West Bank city of Ramallah to discuss reviving peace talks with Israel.
Executive Committee Member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Wasel Abu Yousif said in statement at the time that reviving a political process requires certain determinants based on international law: a time limit for ending the 50-year Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory must be set to establish a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestinian refugees must be granted the right of return to the homes and villages from which they were expelled.
However, Israeli leaders have been public on their rejection of the Palestinian Authority (PA) taking over East Jerusalem, which was officially annexed by Israel in 1980, and have regularly voiced their opposition to the return of Palestinian refugees or even the halting of illegal Israeli settlement expansions in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s right-wing education minister, has also introduced a bill in the Israeli parliament that would prevent any future divisions of Jerusalem, by mending Israel’s Basic Law on Jerusalem to necessitate the approval of 80 of the 120 Knesset members to make any changes to the law, instead of the regular majority vote.
“The purpose of this law is to unify Jerusalem forever,” Bennett reportedly said, adding that his legislation would make it “impossible” to divide Jerusalem.
While the PA and the international community do not recognize the legality of the occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank since 1967, many Palestinians consider that all historic Palestine has been occupied since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
A growing number of activists have criticized a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace given the existing political context, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.