Elections are desperately needed now in the Palestinian Authority, but not in Israel, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday.
A day after Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch declared Liberman will be the next prime minister, the foreign minister himself said with the Middle East in turmoil, the last thing Israel needs right now is a new election cycle.
“Elections are unnecessary now,” he said at a briefing with diplomatic reporters. “We need national political stability now.
The best thing for the national interest is maximum stability, and minimum political turmoil.”
Liberman also said he was opposed to changing the composition of the current coalition, which he said is the best composition possible right now. He came out against what he said were those in the Likud interested in replacing Finance Minister Yair Lapid and swapping Yesh Atid for the haredi parties, saying this would immediately cost NIS 3.5 billion in increased payments to yeshivot and the National Insurance Institute.
Despite the differing voices in the government over diplomatic issues, Liberman said the main threat to the coalition was differences over economic and church-state issues.
But in the PA, the foreign minister said, there is a desperate need for elections, as Mahmoud Abbas has lost legitimacy nine years after the Palestinian Authority’s last vote.
Without new elections in the PA, Liberman said, any agreement signed with Abbas would be like “signing on ice.” Even if Hamas would win the next PA election, Liberman said “at least then we will know where we stand.”
The foreign minister said Israel did not prefer one Palestinian candidate over another, “but if I sell a house, I want to clarify whether the buyer has the money to buy. I want to know that the person on the other side has the authority and is able to make decisions.”
He voiced concern that if Israel would sign an agreement with Abbas now, whoever succeeded him down the line could later say he lacked the legitimacy to sign anything.
Regarding Operation Protective Edge, Liberman said while Israel was demanding the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, the likelihood of this actually happening was slim. However, he said, it was important Jerusalem put the concept firmly on the international agenda.
During the briefing, Liberman said Hamas military head Mohammed Deif was likely killed during the conflict.
“If until now we have not heard his voice, there is room for optimism,” he said.
He also noted that Operation Protective Edge was the first military operation that ended without a UN Security Council resolution, and said in addition to getting a sympathetic hearing from the US in the Security Council, Rwanda, Latvia and Nigeria also helped to fend off negative resolutions.
The Yisrael Beytenu leader also praised the position of Russia, China and India throughout the crisis, nothing that they did not issue condemnations or demarches, nor make demands in the Security Council. He said the Russian media was perhaps the most sympathetic media in the world during the fighting.
Liberman said Israeli and US delegations were scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss a possible US-backed resolution on Gaza in the Security Council – to counter the Jordanian proposal which has been floating around for a number of weeks and reflects the Arab world’s position.
Liberman is scheduled to meet on September 17 in Washington with US Secretary of State John Kerry, during a trip that will take him to Washington, Los Angeles and Latvia.
Turning to Latin America, where five countries recalled their ambassadors at the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, Liberman pointed out that most have since returned.
Of the five countries that pulled their envoys – Brazil, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and El Salvador – all but El Salvador have returned them to Jerusalem.
Liberman met on Sunday with visiting Norwegian Foreign Minister Borg Brende, here in part to discuss efforts to organize a donor’s conference for the Gaza Strip. Brende, who also met President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday, said he will go to Cairo Tuesday to discuss details of the conference, which he said will be held with the proviso that there be a permanent cease-fire in Gaza in place under Egyptian supervision.
Norway is also preparing a meeting in New York on September 22 of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which is the donor’s conference for the Palestinian Authority.
In welcoming Brende, Rivlin said Israel appreciated Norway’s concern about the situation in Gaza, and was interested in its reconstruction on the condition that it be demilitarized and that Gazans understand they have to live side-by-side with Israel.
Rivlin cautioned that if Gaza was not demilitarized, funds contributed by donor countries would be used for attacks against Israel and not for the purposes for which they were earmarked, “and we will again be at a dead end.”Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.