NEW YORK – Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday he prefers new elections, rather than agreeing to the recently tabled “grand bargain” to continue the negotiations.
Liberman, speaking at The Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in New York, said Israel would not give in to what he called “Palestinian blackmail.”
“I support negotiations,” Liberman said. “I think that the maintenance of relations between us and the Palestinians is very important. We are sincere and are ready for any kinds of discussions, but are not ready for blackmail.”
Liberman, who is to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry later this week in Washington, said that the developments of the last few days have left Israel with three options.
The first, he said, is to return to the package presented last week whereby Israel would release the fourth batch of 26 Palestinian security prisoners, plus 400 more prisoners, and refrain from building beyond the Green Line. The US, as part of this deal, would release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, and the Palestinians would continue negotiations and refrain from unilateral actions in international forums.
Liberman made it clear that the “release of terrorists” as part of the package is “not an option.” He also dismissed the second option that some are now discussing: namely, forming a new coalition without Bayit Yehudi. “We will prefer new elections,” he said.
Liberman, in conversation with Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Steve Linde, took Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett to task for saying that Israel would take Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the International Criminal Court.
Liberman deemed this comment unnecessary and said that “sometimes it is better to keep silent.”
Regarding Pollard, Liberman said this is an “American issue,” but that after spending nearly 30 years in jail he should be released on “humanitarian grounds.”
Liberman took the Palestinians and the world to task for ignoring the killing of 7,000 Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, and for not taking the issue to the UN Security Council or the Arab League. He contrasted this “silence” and “avoiding reality” with the condemnation that comes with the building of “every house” in the settlements.
Liberman’s comments were interrupted by applause a number of times, and he responded by joking that he was talking to his “constituency in New York.”
He said that Abbas’s top priority right now is not the negotiations or a comprehensive agreement, but rather the internal clash with the new generation of leaders in Fatah, represented by Mohammed Dahlan.
Asked about the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, Liberman said that while Israel should not “neglect” it, it should also not exaggerate its significance either.
Liberman said that the movement’s biggest success was when the issue was being discussed in Israel. He said that while BDS activities should be “taken seriously,” Israel should “be cool and play it in the right way.”
Israel’s position in the international arena is “very stable,” he said, adding that the EU, as well as key capitals in Europe, have made clear that they are against boycotts.
The Israeli media “are exploiting the issue for domestic purposes,” he said. “We are doing well and know how to deal with it.”
Regarding Iran, Liberman said that Israel is carefully monitoring and following the situation, “and keeping all options on the table.
And when I say all options are on the table, I mean all options are on the table.” `