Lieberman: Economics crux of Mideast problems

FM suggests that int'l efforts in the Middle East focus on economic development and building up the middle class.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Prop up the Middle East’s middle class today, and tomorrow it will be much easier to solve intractable political problems, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a gathering of European foreign ministers on Tuesday.
Speaking in Vilnius to a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Lieberman said a successful middle class was the backbone of a healthy society, and that its formation was essential in establishing societies that reject violence as a way to solve problems, both domestically and internationally.
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Lieberman said the European experience has shown that the more successful a country’s middle class is, the more successful and stable that country is itself. As a result, he suggested that international efforts in the Middle East focus on economic development and building up the middle class.
Long an advocate of developing the West Bank economy as a necessary prelude to being able to reach a final agreement with the Palestinians, Lieberman said that no “abstract formula” will work to solve political problems in the absence of a strong middle class and an equitable division of resources.
On the contrary, he said, paying too much attention to highly charged political issues only impedes the advancement of economic development.
“My suggestion is to bypass highly disputed political issues, which cannot be resolved in the present,” he said. “Once economic growth is allowed to take root and enable the formation of a strong middle class, I have no doubt that the difficult political issues, which seem irresolvable today, will lend themselves to resolution.”
Lieberman said that while there were many reasons for the current “disturbances” in the Arab world, including ethnic friction and demands for basic liberty and democracy, the primary reasons were economic: huge socioeconomic disparities and an unjust division of resources.
He met on the sidelines of the meeting with a parade of foreign ministers, including those from Russia, Canada, Sweden, Latvia, Azerbaijan, the Netherlands, Finland and Latvia.
He also met with Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze and invited him to visit Israel next month.
According to a statement put out by Lieberman’s office, the two men expressed satisfaction that an episode that had cast a cloud over bilateral ties – the imprisonment of Israeli businessmen Roni Fuchs and Ze’ev Frankel for trying to bribe a Georgian government official – was over, and it would now be possible to return to good and normal ties between the two countries. Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili pardoned the pair last week.
In another diplomatic development, Jeffrey Feltman, US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs – currently on a regional tour – met in Jerusalem on Tuesday with Yaakov Amidror, the head of the National Security Council; Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry’s diplomatic- security bureau: Rafi Barak, director-general of the Foreign Ministry; and officials from the Foreign Ministry’s Center for Political Analysis, which is the ministry’s political intelligence bureau. The talks focused on regional issues.