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(photo credit: AP)
A day after US President Barack Obama reiterated his commitment to the Annapolis process and the road map peace plan, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Tuesday that the new government will formulate a diplomatic program compatible with the wishes of the electorate.
But the world "should not stand over us with a stopwatch," he added in an address at an Israel Beiteinu forum in Jerusalem.
Saying that after 16 years of a diplomatic "dead end" in the peace process, the world must be ready to listen to new ideas, Lieberman declared that "we intend to work with determination on the diplomatic plane and formulate a detailed and up-to-date assessment. This will not happen overnight, and they should not stand over us with a stopwatch in hand. We will formulate the policy compatible with our world view and as the voters wanted in the elections."
Lieberman said those who criticized him for rejecting Annapolis were "trying to build a 'Galut state' instead of a Jewish state, that would give up the national interest and national honor."
Lieberman asserted that "the biggest problem isn't the Palestinians, but the Iranians. From their ballistic missiles, nonconventional weapons and nuclear program, to their involvement in Lebanon and Gaza, Iran poses a much graver threat to Israel than the Palestinians do, and the focus should be moved from the Palestinians over to Iran."
Concluding his speech on a humorous note, Lieberman said to raucous laughter, "Don't you see? Now that I'm the foreign minister, I choose my words much more carefully."
The State Department responded swiftly to Lieberman's careful words when spokesman Robert Wood reiterated on Tuesday afternoon the importance of a two-state solution to the Obama administration.
"The important objective for us is to get this process back on track so that we can get to this two-state solution that we think is in the best interests of not only the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the United States and the rest of the world," he said, confirming that special US Middle East envoy George Mitchell would be visiting the region in the near future to "continue discussions with how we can move back to a very positive track" toward a two-state solution.
Lieberman's comments contrasted with statements made by officials in the Prime Minister's Office Tuesday after Obama addressed the Israeli-Palestinian issue for the second day in a row, saying in Turkey that the Muslim world must not blame everything on Israel and that Jews must see things through the Palestinians' perspective.
"We are looking forward to working with the Obama administration on advancing the common goals of the Israeli and American governments, namely advancing peace and stability and strengthening regional security," one official in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office said Tuesday, choosing to remain positive but noncommittal regarding Obama's recent Middle East declarations.
Diplomatic sources said Netanyahu's office was looking to find common ground with the Obama administration, as it continued its in-depth "policy review."
Despite the policy review and Lieberman's comments last week that Israel was not obligated to the Annapolis process but only the road map, Obama said Monday in Ankara that the US strongly supported "the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. That is a goal shared by Palestinians, Israelis and people of goodwill around the world. That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the road map and at Annapolis. That is a goal that I will actively pursue as president of the United States."
Diplomatic sources said it was widely expected that US Middle East envoy George Mitchell would begin actively pursuing that goal when he came back to Israel on April 16.
While Mitchell was in the "listening mode" during his two prior visits to Israel as Obama's envoy, the sources said that this time he was expected to "begin talking himself" and articulating US policy. The sources said that Mitchell was expected to have an office set up in Jerusalem by July, a further indication of the seriousness of his mission.
Meanwhile, Israeli Embassy and White House sources in Washington, as well as sources in the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, said they were unaware of any plans for Obama to visit Israel in June, disputing press reports that he would stop in Jerusalem and Ramallah after an expected trip to Paris.
Officials pointed out that details had yet to be finalized for Netanyahu's own inaugural visit to Washington, most likely in May, and that Netanyahu's trip was expected to be finalized before any commitments were made concerning Obama's schedule and a possible trip to the region.
Sources in Jerusalem said that while it was clear that Obama would be making a visit here in the upcoming months, the exact timing had not been worked out.
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.