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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s op-ed in The Jerusalem Post on Thursday advocating an exchange of populated territories and a redrawing of the country’s borders raised some eyebrows in the diplomatic community, but more for the timing of the piece than the content.
Domestically, however, his call to redraw the borders based on demographics – essentially drawing Arabs out of Israel and into a new Palestinian state, and Jews in the settlements into Israel – raised considerable ire, with Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor) saying the proposal was furthering Israel’s isolation, and former Labor minister Ghaleb Majadleh saying Lieberman wasn’t his foreign minister.
“The Jews elected him, and they have to deal with the consequences,” Majadleh said.
Braverman said he had met over the last few days with international officials “who expressed concern about Lieberman calling for transferring Arabs. I told them that no government in Israel would ever accept such a plan, and he is behaving irresponsibly.
“When Israel is under attack diplomatically, precisely at such a time for the foreign minister to call for transfer to get a few more Knesset seats does Israel great diplomatic damage and encourages our international isolation.”
Lieberman has stressed that he is not talking about physically moving anyone, but rather redrawing borders, as has been done elsewhere in the world.
One western diplomatic source said there was nothing new in Lieberman calling for a redrawing of the border based on demographic lines, but it was unclear why he was raising the issue now. Foreign Ministry officials said there were no calls for clarifications from abroad, and that these are ideas that Lieberman has brought up in the past with foreign statesmen with whom he has met.
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Lieberman regularly tells his colleagues from abroad that this is his plan, and not that of the government, a source close to the foreign minister said. The source added that Lieberman said a year ago he would stay out of the Israeli-Palestinian issue for 12 months to give it a chance to succeed, and that since it hasn’t moved anywhere he was now putting forth another plan.
A State Department official, asked to comment on the positions Lieberman staked out in his piece, responded by stressing the American stance on reaching agreement for Israeli and Palestinian states.
“We support a two-state solution, with Israelis and Palestinians coexisting peacefully and with mutual security,” the official said.
He then reiterated the formula first articulated by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year: “We believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”
op-ed followed a briefing he held with reporters Tuesday during which he said that if Kadima wanted to join the coalition, it would have to accept this idea of an exchange of populated territories as the coalition’s platform.
Sources close to Kadima head Tzipi Livni said it was “absurd” that the foreign minister was promoting his plan instead of the government’s policies.
“Kadima obviously does not support his plan to say the least, and neither does any party in the coalition. Once again the world has to figure out whether they should be listening to the prime minister, the defense minister or the foreign minister,” a sources said. “It is no wonder everyone is confused.”
Some attributed Lieberman’s placing these issues on the table now to a concern he has that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might be willing to enlarge the coalition and bring in Kadima at his expense. But others say the fact that he chose the Post
to publish his article rather than a Hebrew daily meant that it was intended primarily to reach a foreign audience and was not written because of domestic political considerations.
Sources close to Netanyahu said Lieberman’s views were consistent, and
that he was “raising his profile” because of concern about Livni.
One official said that while much of the plan was problematic and
incomplete, he was not ruling out eventually accepting elements of the
proposal as part of a final-status agreement.
Lieberman has in recent days complained that one of Israel’s major
problems is that it has not provided the international community with
an idea of what Israel’s “end game” is, and his associates said
Thursday that he was advancing the plan now, at a time where there is a
vacuum in the diplomatic process.
“The proximity talks are at a point when it makes sense,” one of his
associates said. “He thinks he can convince the government to adopt the
plan.Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report from Washington.
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