Avigdor Liberman: Israel's Most-Popular Politician

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem in October 2010. Uriel Sinai / Getty Images

You're not a big believer in "territory for peace." We began the Oslo process 17 years ago, in 1993, and we're still in a deadlock. The right approach is not peace for territory but exchanging territory and populations.

Does [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu support that idea? I don't know, but I can guess that all the right wing, including all of Likud, and maybe the majority of the Labor Party [support it].

You're talking about drawing a line so that how many Israeli Arabs will no longer be part of Israel? At least half.

Polls suggest that 90 percent or more of Israeli Arabs don't want that. You have 20 percent of the population that's the Arab minority. You have 80 percent that's Jewish. From 80 percent of the Jewish population, 70 percent support this idea.

So even if a resident of [the Israeli Arab town] Umm al-Fahm, for instance, doesn't want to become part of Palestine, if a majority in the country says he has to, he has no choice? He can continue to live in his property, his house, his land [and become a citizen of Palestine], or he can move to Israel.

But most Israeli Arabs, the vast majority, have been loyal citizens of Israel. Every day, every week, you have another case of Israeli Arabs that are taking part in terrorist activity. You have the leaders of the Israeli Arabs, their intellectual and municipal leaders, saying they will never recognize Israel as a Jewish and Zionist state.

What about the argument that all this talk about taking away their Israeli citizenship or forcing them to sign loyalty oaths—that those are the things that alienate Israeli Arabs and turn them against Israel? What we're trying to do is stop this phenomenon of people enjoying all the advantages of a democratic country but refusing to be integrated. They don't want to adopt our values. It's like in the 1930s. Everyone understood who Hitler was, but everybody tried to avoid this reality.

Who are you comparing to Hitler? [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, the Iranian threat—it's exactly like Hitler.

But the world is not appeasing Iran. There are sanctions against Iran. There's talk about a military option. There's a recognition universally that Iran is a problem. Exactly like in the '30s. Everyone knew that Hitler was a problem, and the Western world sacrificed Czechoslovakia. Not enough sanctions [have been imposed] to prevent them from acquiring nuclear capability.

Are you saying you believe Iran is going to get a nuclear bomb, that we just have to learn to live with that idea? Of course it is.

You were appointed to oversee a committee that looks at what happens the day after Iran gets the bomb. We asked ourselves once they achieve a nuclear bomb, what will be the next step? It's clear that the first step will be occupation, de facto or de jure, of the Gulf countries.

And then what? Saudi Arabia, of course, to topple this dynasty from power.

Where is Israel in that scenario? We're next, you know. It's like Hitler. First there was Czechoslovakia and afterwards Poland. But after that the Jews paid the heaviest price.

What about the argument that Iran is a rational country? Its leaders want to survive, they want to continue being leaders, and therefore you can deter them. In the last five years, I met everyone who met Ahmadinejad. And the impression of all of them was that it's a clear case of a crazy fanatic guy, charismatic but very radical, with his crazy idea to export the Islamic revolution, to convert all the Christians and Jews and even the Muslims to the Shia. For Ahmadinejad and for the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], it's not a game.

You've talked about taking decades to implement any peace deal with the Palestinians. Why would it take all that time? It's a very, very complicated agenda.

The other side sees that as an excuse to get out of making the tough decisions. It's not. The Palestinians, when they speak in a closed meeting with you, they understand we're not the enemy. The only one they can trust at the end of the day is Israel. What you have in the Middle East is tension not between Jews and Arabs, not between Israelis and Palestinians, but between the radical wing and the moderate people. The biggest threat for [Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad and [PA President] Abu Mazen is not Israel, it's Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad.

People see you as the radical, certainly in the Israeli context. I am the mainstream. When I started with my vision, I was really a small minority. Today we're the third [largest] party in Israel.

Netanyahu has talked about the possibility of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians within a year. I think it's clear to everybody today that it's impossible. It's not a realistic vision.

The idea that's been floated about the Palestinians going to the Security Council and asking for recognition of a state in the 1967 borders—can you imagine a scenario where the U.S. does not veto that? The moment they declare their independence without any agreement with us, not as a result of negotiations, all the understandings we achieved, all the agreements we signed since Oslo, will be nullified. I think they have much more to lose than Israel from this step.