Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a Palestinian newspaper in an interview published Monday that while Israel has no desire to return to Gaza or conquer it, "if they force a new war on us—it will be Hamas' last because we will completely destroy them."
The interview with Al-Quds—the most popular Palestinian daily West Bank and east Jerusalem—sparked outrage on Palestinian social media.
Lieberman outlined an alternative reality for Gaza citizens in which the Gaza-Israel border can be a source of development and prosperity, which can create thousands of new jobs.
"There are extremely radical elements in the Gaza Strip who have the destruction of Israel at the top of their priorities," Lieberman noted. "But I want to be clear: if they make the decision to stop digging tunnels, smuggling arms and firing rockets at us, we will be the first investors in the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip. We will be the first to invest in a maritime trading port, an airport and an industrial zone. Gaza could one day be the new Hong Kong or Singapore. Hamas invests more than NIS 100 million in military infrastructure instead of in health and education."
Regarding the issue of Palestinian statehood, Lieberman said, "I recognize the two-state solution and I support it, but I think the problem lies with the Palestinian leadership and not Israel. I feel the right principle is not land for peace. I prefer and exchange of territory and population. I do not understand why we need Umm al-Fahm. (Its residents) recognize themselves as Palestinian and do not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. I am referring to (leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement) Sheikh Raed Salah and others that see themselves as Palestinian—so please, be part of the Palestinian state."
Lieberman further went on to state that he believes that large settlement blocs such as Ma'ale Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Gush Etzion and Ariel will be part of Israel in the event of an agreement with the Palestinians.
In regards to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Lieberman said, "The problem is not with Jerusalem or extremism. The problem lies with Abbas refusing to sign a final agreement. An agreement of this type requires another person who is capable of making the tough decision concerning the Arab world, the Palestinians and even Jerusalem. I imagine the final agreement will be like an earthquake because it will open a new page in our relations with the Middle East and the Arab world. Abbas does not have the ability to market his goods to the people."
According to Lieberman, the thing that bothers most average Palestinian citizens is the corruption in the Palestinian Authority. "When was the last time Abbas visited Nablus or Tulkarm? He hasn't been there for a decade, but he has been in London, Paris, New York and Moscow. He is the Palestinian president, but he would surely lose in elections, no doubt."
When asked who Lieberman thought could replace Abbas, he avoided answering the question directly, but made it clear that there are those who are capable of replacing Abbas.