Liberman: Israel would be crazy to defy Trump on settlements

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TIMES OF ISRAEL – Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned Monday that it would be a grave mistake for Israel to go up against the new Trump administration in Washington on settlements.

“For eight years, there was tension and friction with the Obama administration. If we now start to fight with the Trump administration… and the Republican-majority Congress, people will really start to think that the leadership in the State of Israel is a bunch of nutcases,” he told Israel Radio.

His comments came in reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly walking back his promise to build a new settlement for the former residents of the Amona outpost, which was evacuated last month.

Netanyahu told members of his security cabinet on Sunday that the state may have to renege on the pledge in light of US President Donald Trump’s request, during a joint press conference he held with the prime minister in Washington last week, that Israel “hold back” on settlement construction.

While the defense minister denied that Israel, as a sovereign country, requires a “green light” from the US government in order to move forward with settlement construction, he stressed the importance of avoiding a crisis with the Trump administration over the matter.

“Let’s try and talk and reach an agreement. Not every issue needs to be immediately turned into a crisis,” he said. “The most important thing is to reach understandings with the US on all issues.”

A “mechanism” for discussing settlements with the US “will be set up when the prime minister returns from the Far East,” an Israeli official said Sunday night.

Netanyahu is currently on a state visit to Singapore and Australia.

Liberman cited Trump’s new special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, as well as Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, as two allies of the settlement movement who have been working closely with the White House to help reach a consensus on the matter.

Netanyahu made similar comments regarding the importance of avoiding spats with the new US president in a closed-door cabinet meeting on February 12, where he warned his ministers that they “mustn’t get into confrontation with Trump.” He reportedly added that the president’s ego needs to be taken “into account.”

Earlier in the interview, Liberman rejected Trump’s implication during his press conference with Netanyahu that a single state would be a viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should the two sides agree to it.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said.

Liberman said that Israel cannot annex the Palestinians living in the West Bank if it wants to remain a Jewish state.

He went on to invoke his long-held two-state plan under which some Israeli Arab towns would become part of a future Palestinian state.

“We need to separate from the Palestinians in the West Bank, but also from the ones within the 1967 borders,” Liberman said. In a TV interview last week, Liberman said all the “Palestinians” in Israel should go live under the rule of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

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