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(photo credit: AP)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman lambasted American policy of engagement with Iran and the US demand that Israel halt natural growth in the West Bank settlements.
Speaking to Time magazine in an interview published Friday morning, Lieberman also suggested that he was ready to begin negotiations with any Arab country immediately, saying he would "take a jet to Damascus to meet President Bashar al-Assad."
Referring to recent events in Iran, Lieberman said "this really fanatic extremist regime is still in power, and the young people who are ready to fight and die for change are not getting any real support from the West... The fact that this regime continues to be an acceptable partner for dialogue is really a bad message. It shows the bad guys are winners."
The Israel Beiteinu leader, perceived by Israel's allies as a hawk, also criticized the Obama Administration for demanding that Israel halt construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, calling it a "mistake."
"We are trying to formulate some understanding with the US. We don't speak [with the Americans] of building new settlements. We don't speak of expansion. We try to build only within existing construction lines. We cannot suffocate our own people. You know, babies are born. People get married. We cannot stop life. People want to build a synagogue or a kindergarten," Lieberman said.
Opposing a view held by consecutive American administrations irrespective of whether they were Democrat or Republican, according to which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to solving all Middle East conflicts, Lieberman said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was part of a broader "clash of values between civilizations," and that it was not the key for bringing peace to the Middle East, as many believe.
"With 9/11 and terrorist acts in London, Madrid, Bali, in Russia, I can't see any linkage with the Israeli-Palestinian problem," Lieberman told the magazine.
Lieberman included in his willingness to negotiate with any Arab neighbor the Palestinians as well, but warned "it's impossible to impose peace, only to create it."
"We must start with practical issues, like getting rid of roadblocks and illegal outposts [inside the Palestinian territories]. You must understand that we used to have 41 roadblocks and now only have 16 roadblocks." According to Time the UN disputes Lieberman's count, saying there are 69 roadblocks in the West Bank manned by Israeli security services and another 521 unmanned roadblocks restricting Palestinians' travel.
In a major shift from the previously stated platform of his party, Lieberman said he no longer supported a "population exchange" that would effectively cause residents of large Arab communities inside Israel to lose their citizenship. Lieberman told the magazine that such a solution today would be neither "acceptable nor possible," adding that even if a Palestinian state were created, Arabs would still be welcome inside Israel, where they currently account for 18 percent of the population. "Maybe some Arabs would prefer to go to a Palestinian state, but if some want to be Israeli citizens, that's their right," he said.
Lieberman said that he considers himself an outsider in Israeli politics. As an immigrant who came to Israel at the age of 20 - his first job hauling luggage at Ben Gurion Airport - Lieberman says his journey to the second most prominent position in Israeli politics proves that Israel is "a great land of opportunity."