The package deal currently being discussed to enable a continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian talks is not the same one that was on the table two weeks ago, which included Israel’s release of Israeli-Arab prisoners and the US freeing Jonathan Pollard, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday.
Liberman, speaking at the Foreign Ministry to some 77 ambassadors and diplomats stationed in Israel, said the attempts to find a way out of the crisis were continuing. His comments came amid unconfirmed reports that Israelis and Palestinian officials were to hold a rare meeting Sunday night without US mediation to find a way out of the current impasse.
US envoy Martin Indyk left Israel late last week, and is not expected back until – at the earliest – later this week.
According to an official in the hour-long meeting between Liberman and the ambassadors, the foreign minister urged the envoys to press their governments to stay out of the picture, not to interfere with the sides trying to find a way out of the impasse, and not to blame Israel.
“Anyone who wants to be helpful to the process needs to remain balanced, and not blame Israel,” Liberman was quoted as saying. “Today, when the Middle East is burning, there is only one island of stability and democracy – the State of Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian relations are under control. We therefore expect the international community to show more understanding to our needs, especially to our security needs.”
Liberman also called on the envoys to urge their capitals to advocate direct talks at the highest level, meaning between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Among those at the briefing included the charges d’affaires from the Turkish and Jordanian embassies, as well as the ambassadors of Russia, Italy, Spain and the European Union.
During brief introductory remarks made to the ambassadors that were open to the press, Liberman said the Palestinians were repeating a pattern they have demonstrated in the past of getting cold feet at the last minute before an agreement was about to be signed.
“What happened last week is that we were very close to accomplishing the package deal with the Palestinians,” Liberman said. “It was very complicated. After eight months, after real efforts and readiness by us to go forward, suddenly the Palestinians requested to join 15 different UN agencies.”
The package Liberman referred to would have had the US release Pollard; Israel free the last batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners, including Israeli-Arabs, plus another 400 prisoners “without blood on their hands”; an Israeli commitment to “restrain” settlement construction in Judea and Samaria; and a Palestinian commitment to continue negotiations and refrain from applying for membership in various international forums.
Liberman likened the Palestinian applications to the international organizations – a move that contributed to the torpedoing of the emerging deal – to Yasser Arafat backing out at the last minute at Camp David in 2000 and not signing an agreement with then prime minister Ehud Barak, and Abbas doing the same after Annapolis and not signing an accord with then prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008.
Hinting at what he seemed to expect would likely occur this time as well, Liberman said that after each of these cases in the past, “certain leaders and countries would not blame the Palestinians for sabotaging an agreement. After some time, they started to blame Israel and placed the pressure on us.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry last week, during testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, seemed to place the blame for the breakdown of the talks on Israel, though afterward his spokeswoman said he was not blaming one side or the other.
Liberman said that by signing peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, as well as signing the Oslo Accords and withdrawing completely from the Gaza Strip, Israel has proven its “readiness to achieve a final agreement” with the Palestinians, and was not just offering lip service.
“We are ready to talk and negotiate but will not accept any unilateral steps,” he said.