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Israeli Cabinet Minister Calls for
Separation of Jews and Arabs



By Robert Berger

JERUSALEM (VOA) -- The newest addition to the Israeli Cabinet has called for a near-total separation of Jews and Arabs in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The statement sparked outrage, especially among Israel's Arab citizens, who accused the hawkish minister of promoting an "apartheid" policy.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Avigdor Lieberman set off a storm by saying that the Jewish and Arab citizens of the Holy Land should be separated to strengthen the Jewish majority in the State of Israel. Lieberman said that Israel should follow the example of Cyprus, which is divided between Greeks and Turks.

Lieberman told Israel Radio that the source of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not territory or occupation, but rather a clash between two peoples and two religions. He said Cyprus is a model because there is no terror. "There is no peace," he said, "but there is security."

Lieberman's views on the Arabs have made him one of the most controversial politicians in Israel, with opponents describing him as a racist. He became a more powerful figure a week ago, when he joined the Cabinet and was appointed Minister of Strategic Affairs.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert invited Lieberman's hawkish Yisrael Beitenu party to prop up his fragile government, which was weakened by fierce public criticism of its handling of the recent war in Lebanon.

The mayor of the Israeli-Arab town of Um el-Fahm, Sheikh Hashem al-Hajneh, told Israel Radio that Lieberman's remarks are dangerous.

Al-Hajneh said the Arabs are citizens of Israel just like the Jews. "This country is not only for the Jews and not only for the Arabs," he said, adding that both peoples must live together.

One Israeli Arab parliamentarian was more blunt, charging that Lieberman's remarks amount to "ethnic cleansing."

Lieberman says, if the Palestinians demand a country that has no Jews, then the Arab towns in Israel should be joined to a Palestinian state.

"From my point of view ... there is no other solution," he said, "if we want to keep Israel a Jewish, Zionist country."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Cabinet that Lieberman's views are his own, and do not represent the official position of the Israeli government.