SPIEGEL Interview with Avigdor Lieberman: 'It Is a Clash of Civilizations'

By Martin Doerry and

Part 3: 'A National Conflict ... Developed into a Religious Conflict'

Photo Gallery: An Escalation in Middle East Tensions Photos
REUTERS

SPIEGEL: Why do you need the settlements at all?

Lieberman: First of all, Judea and Samaria are the birthplace of our nation since the days of the Bible. But the settlements are also important for our security.

SPIEGEL: The settlements? Do they not actually endanger your security?

Lieberman: No, the settlements around Jerusalem, for example, serve like a fence for us.

SPIEGEL: But you have already built a wall that separates Jerusalem from the West Bank.

Lieberman: The settlements are like a second security ring, we need them. But we are ready to negotiate about parts of them.

SPIEGEL: You live in a settlement yourself: Nokdim, south of Bethlehem.

Lieberman: And I said I am ready to give it up. But I have to be sure that there is a partner on the other side who is able to deliver. From our experience there is no partner and no results

SPIEGEL: Perhaps Israel has simply not offered enough?

Lieberman: There is a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of this conflict. It started as a national conflict between two people over one piece of land. But it developed into a religious conflict. It is a clash of civilizations which you cannot solve with a territorial compromise.

SPIEGEL: Israel's motives are also partly religious, recently your government declared the tomb of the biblical patriarch Abraham in Hebron a "Zionist heritage". However, it is also a holy site for Muslims.

Lieberman: Hebron was the first Jewish city, King David started our nation from there. We have not altered the status quo of the tomb of Abraham, Muslims have free access to the mosque. This kind of tolerance does not exist on the Muslim side. Last week Hamas called for a "day of rage," because we opened the Hurva synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, which was destroyed in 1948.

SPIEGEL: So what is your solution?

Lieberman: I do not see a solution at the moment. We should concentrate on managing the conflict. Do you see a solution in Afghanistan? In Iraq?

SPIEGEL: In Afghanistan less, in Iraq more.

Lieberman: If the West failed in so many parts of the world, you cannot expect that the conflict in our corner, of all things, is solvable. You cannot stop an Islamist tsunami by building a small island somewhere in the ocean. The biggest problem is the aggressive influence of Iran.

SPIEGEL: The United Nations Security Council is currently debating new punitive measures against Iran. China and Russia have already announced that they oppose "crippling sanctions". Without them, is it still possible to prevent Iran from building the nuclear bomb?

Lieberman: The problem is not only Russia or China, but also India, Turkey and others. But it would be enough to have tough sanctions from the West like the EU and the US and also Japan, Australia and Canada. That would suffocate the Iranian nuclear program.

SPIEGEL: Is Germany doing enough in your view?

Lieberman: Germany is playing a very positive role. During my last visit, I felt for the first time that the German government understands that tough sanctions are necessary. But I am afraid that disagreements and a lack of political will within the international community could prevent real sanctions.

SPIEGEL: Will there be a military strike then?

Lieberman: I don't think that Israel should take responsibility for this issue. But we are not taking any options of the table.

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