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‘Demographic Balance’

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday and reiterated his opposition to a settlement freeze. “We cannot accept this vision about absolutely completely freezing call for our settlements,” Lieberman said during a joint presser. But he also had a formulation that I haven’t seen before:

First of all, we really don’t have any intention to change the demographic balance in Judea and Samaria.

Couple things there. First, “Judea and Samaria” are the biblical names for the West Bank, and are typically used by irredentist Jews as a subtle but agressive way of saying “this land is ours and we’re not giving it up,” in the same way that calling Jerusalem “al-Quds” is a way for Arabs to stake their own claim not to give up on controlling the city. Second, emphasizing the “demographic balance” of the West Bank — let’s see if the Israelis stick with that. It would appear at first blush to be a way of shifting the conversation away from the actual Palestinian land controlled by Israel and onto the people who inhabit that land. That would be a handy, if transparent, way of moving away from the terms of the Road Map.

But what could it really mean? In arguing against a settlement freeze, Lieberman made a point of saying ” in every place around the world, baby are born (inaudible), people get married, some pass away.” Uh, sure, and all of that changes the “demographic balance,” particularly as the same holds true for the Palestinians of the West Bank. Perhaps this is all a way of trying to get Clinton to accept the current demographic balance as one worth preserving, which is incompatible with Israeli disengagement from the West Bank and the birth of a Palestinian state.

Either way, Clinton didn’t yield on the administration’s settlement-freeze position:

Well, as President Obama, Senator Mitchell and I have said, we want to see a stop to the settlements. We think that is an important and essential part of pursuing the efforts leading to a comprehensive peace agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state next to a Israeli-Jewish state that is secure in its borders and future. We believe that this process which Senator Mitchell is quarterbacking for us has just begun. There are a number of critical concerns, many of which overlap in their impact and significance, that will be explored in the coming weeks as Senator Mitchell engages more deeply into the specifics as to where the Israelis and the Palestinians are willing to go together.

I think that the whole issue that you’ve raised is one that we’ve expressed our opinion on. And in looking at the history of the Bush Administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the Administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility. Our former ambassador Dan Kurtzer has written an op-ed that appeared in the last few days that lays out our position on that.

When asked if Lieberman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will go beyond Netanyahu’s call for a “limited” Palestinian state, Clinton replied, “I think if one looks at Israeli history, there have been prime ministers going back to the beginning of Israelis’ statehood that have staked out positions which have changed over time … I leave that to them to decide.”

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