Israel’s new right-wing government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and, in particular, statements by his far-right foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, have raised considerable alarm, both within Israel and internationally.

Just days after taking office, Lieberman inflamed controversy by proposing that Israel’s Arab citizens be subjected to loyalty tests, revoking the citizenship of those who refuse to submit to the tests.

He also suggested rearranging Israel’s borders to exclude areas with large Arab populations.

Beyond that, in a direct challenge to the Obama administration, he rejected a freeze on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. A freeze on construction or expansion of settlements is one of the central requirements of the U.S.-sponsored “road map” negotiations process put forward in 2002.

Peace advocates consider a settlement freeze to be key to advancing negotiations toward a peaceful two-state solution.

Lieberman himself lives in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank near Bethlehem. While he says he backs the principle of a two-state solution, his deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, told a reporter for McClatchy Newspapers that the new Israeli government had no plans to move quickly on a settlement freeze. Instead, Ayalon and Lieberman insisted that Palestinians have to do more on security first — even though the Palestinian Authority has been widely praised for improving security in the West Bank.

Other Netanyahu advisers have questioned whether an independent Palestinian state is a desirable goal. Some have proposed that Jordan assume responsibility for Palestinians in the West Bank.

Some Israeli Jewish and Arab commentators say Lieberman’s aggressive stance not only threatens the peace process but also poses a threat to Israel itself.

‘What is clear is that he is out there to destroy the last possibility of the two-state solution, and that’s why I think, in many ways, he’s an enemy of the state,’ Neve Gordon, a political science professor at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University, told McClatchy reporter Dion Nissenbaum. ‘Because if we don’t have a two-state solution, it’s full-blown apartheid.’

Mohammad Darawshe, an Arab Israeli, said Lieberman’s claims that Israeli Arabs are disloyal and his proposals on “thresholds for citizenship” are “part of an attempt to change the demography of Israel or at least render Arabs second-class citizens. This is not the promise of equality embodied in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. This ideology should be fought to maintain the democratic nature of Israel.”

Darawshe, co-executive director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, dedicated to advancing coexistence and equality among Jews and Arabs in Israel, called Lieberman’s agenda “anti-Arab and racist.”

Interviewed at, Darwashe said, “I refuse to be on the defensive. The Palestinian citizens of Israel have succeeded in proving their loyalty and respect for the law over 62 years, more than was expected of them. To be citizens of a country that is fighting our people is not simple, yet we have maintained respect for law and distanced ourselves from violence during two intifadas and seven other wars.”

“Territorial exchange is a legitimate topic for states to discuss, but not population exchange in which Israel can deprive Israeli citizens of citizenship. No law gives the right to remove citizenship from anyone; people need to be asked if they want to maintain their citizenship or not. So this is not an option that helps Israel. It creates more anger and frustration toward it.”

As foreign minister, “Lieberman should be concerned with how Israel treats its Arab citizens,” Darwashe said. “This will be a model for other countries’ treatment of their Jewish minorities.” Lieberman’s proposals, he said, “are not in the national interest of Israel or the Jewish people.”

Meanwhile Lieberman, like so many other Israeli politicians, is facing a political corruption probe. Last week, Israeli police questioned him for the third time in a week about allegations of bribery and money laundering.


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.