lieberman knesset 248 88 aj.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It took Avigdor Lieberman less than eight hours as Foreign Minister Wednesday to reverse Israeli diplomatic policy of the last two years, saying Jerusalem was not obligated by the Annapolis process.
"There is one document that obligates us - and that's not the Annapolis conference, it has no validity," Lieberman told Foreign Ministry employees gathered in the ministry for a changing of the guard ceremony together with outgoing foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
"The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did the Knesset," Lieberman said. The one document that obligates Israel - and he stressed that Israel is bound by its ratified commitment - is the 2003 road map, officially called "A performance-based road map to a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Lieberman corrected Livni, who said that the government had adopted Annapolis, saying that neither the cabinet nor the Knesset formally endorsed any Annapolis document.
Following Lieberman's comments, the Foreign Ministry issued directives to its delegation abroad saying Israel was no longer pursuing the Annapolis process.
One senior Foreign Ministry official said that by adopting the road map, Lieberman was - in his own way - reconfirming his acceptance of a two-state solution.
The road map is a phase-by-phase plan that is to lead eventually to final status negotiations and two states, but which first calls for the Palestinians to take steps such as dismantling the terrorist infrastructure and building governmental institutions, and calls on Israel to freeze all settlement construction.
Lieberman's comments came at a gathering that most thought would amount to little more than the usual niceties between ministers handing off the baton.
The ceremony started that way, with Livni saying that there was no disagreement between her and Lieberman when it came to fighting against those who wanted to delegitimize Israel. She even offered to represent Israel abroad when asked to do so.
But rather than follow the usual script, thanking Livni for her service and her offer, Lieberman lashed into the Olmert government's policies, making it clear that he would set a new agenda.
Lieberman said that Israel would abide strictly by the road map, as well as by two accompanying documents - the Tenet and Zinni documents - that were drafted to get the two parties to the road map's starting gates.
"We will never agree to jump over all the clauses and go to the last one, which is negotiations over a final status agreement," he said. He noted that the agreement included dismantling terrorist infrastructure and setting up working, effective functioning Palestinian institutions.
The Annapolis process is posited on the idea of negotiating a final status agreement now, which would then be placed on a shelf until a later time when it would became clear that the Palestinians could control the security situation on the ground.
A US State Department official, when asked Wednesday about Lieberman's comments, emphasized America's commitment to a two-state solution and its interest in working with the new Israeli government to advance that goal.
Rather than address Lieberman's dismissal of the Annapolis process, the US official stressed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had emphasized peace with the Palestinians during his speech to the Knesset on Tuesday.
"Israel is a close friend and ally, and we remain unalterably committed to Israel's security," deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid said. "We have full confidence in and will continue to support the government of Israel, and we will work together for a durable and lasting peace in the region."
Duguid also declined to firmly back the Annapolis process, which was pushed by the Bush administration and kicked off by a conference in Annapolis, Maryland, in the fall of 2007.
He noted that the Obama administration was reviewing many elements of US Middle East policy, but added, "The two-state solution, however, is not one that is under review. We're committed to that solution."
Regarding Israel's difficult diplomatic standing in the world today, Lieberman noted that this came at a time when Israel was willing to make unprecedented concessions.
In relation to public opinion, he asked, "When was Israel at its most popular in the world? After the Six Day War, not after Oslo A, B, C and D."
To be respected in the world, you have to respect yourself, he said. Concessions were not the way to earn respect or make peace, the new foreign minister said.
"Those who think that through concessions they will gain respect and peace are wrong," Lieberman said. "It's the other way around; it will lead to more wars." Peace was not brought closer by "saying the word peace 20 times a day."
"Those who want peace should prepare for war and be strong," he said. "There is no country that has made as many concessions as Israel. Since 1967 we gave up territory that is three times the size of Israel. We showed willingness. The Oslo process started back in 1993 and to this day I have not seen that we reached peace."
Livni, who did not respond publicly to Lieberman's words at the ceremony, was overheard afterward saying, "This speech proved that I did the right thing when I did not join the government."
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his unofficial spokesman, said no one could force the Palestinians to sit around the negotiating table with "a racist like Lieberman."
Hadash MK Afo Agbaria called on the international community to impose a diplomatic embargo on Israel following Lieberman's comments.
"It isn't surprising that such fiery declarations come from the mouth of the racist foreign minister just one day after the government's establishment," Agbaria said.
Meanwhile, even before Lieberman's comments, Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair said the peace process was in jeopardy and Israel must fully support the goal of living in peace next to an independent Palestinian state, The Associated Press reported.
A period of diplomatic inactivity caused by the Israeli elections and the change of administration in Washington had harmed the peace process, he said.
"We face a situation of very great jeopardy for the peace process" in 2009, Blair said after talks at EU headquarters in Brussels with Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU external relations commissioner.
"We need a combination of strong political negotiations toward a two-state solution and major change on the ground," he said.
"The next six months actually will be completely critical in determining whether this process can move forward or whether it will slip back," Blair said.
Hilary Leila Kreiger contributed to this report.