'Coalition is not over land'

Lieberman says Israel Beiteinu has other reasons for leaving gov't; vows to work for new elections.

Lieberman makes point 224 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Lieberman makes point 224 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman shifted his focus from fighting Iran to fighting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Wednesday when he resigned and removed his Israel Beiteinu Party from the coalition. The resignations of Lieberman and Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich will take effect on Friday, 48 hours after they were submitted. Israel Beiteinu's departure left Olmert with the same fragile coalition of 67 MKs that he had when the party joined the government in October 2006. Lieberman said he would immediately begin consulting with other party heads to try to set an agreed-upon date for the next general election. He called on Olmert to set a date for an early election of his own volition and not to wait to be overthrown by the opposition. "From now on, we will work to advance the elections so they will be held as soon as possible," Lieberman told reporters in a press conference at the Knesset. "We tried to stop the Annapolis process from within. Now we will try again by toppling the government. I hope we will soon bring about new elections and new hope." Lieberman made a point of not criticizing the prime minister personally at the press conference. But he said Olmert made a mistake by directing his government's focus to the controversial issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of a consensus move to stop Iran. "All negotiations on the basis of land for peace are a tragic mistake," Lieberman said. "Whoever says the conflict is over territory is misleading the public. If we go back to pre-1967 lines, the conflict and the terror won't end. We cannot accept the asymmetry of a Palestinian state and a binational state with a sizable Arab minority. That's why the solution has to be exchanges of population and territories and not land for peace." Lieberman said that when he joined the government, he succeeded in removing Kadima's realignment plan, which called for a withdrawal from most of the West Bank, from the national agenda, and that he could not have predicted that the Annapolis process would begin. He admitted that leaving the government could hurt his party politically almost as much as joining it did. "We entered the government after the Second Lebanon War, when it was clear that politically, it was the worst time and most Israel Beiteinu voters were opposed," Lieberman said. "Now it's the worst time politically for us to leave, after we convinced our supporters why we have to be inside, and most of them now oppose our departure. We are the only party that acts against its political interests solely according to its principles." Lieberman said no ulterior motives were involved in his decision to quit. He rejected reports that he intended to seek the post of opposition leader or to run Israel Beiteinu on a joint list with the Likud in the next general election. "The chance that we will run with the Likud is nearly zero," Lieberman said. "In politics, you can never say never, but the only way it would happen is if the Likud accepted our platform. If they did, we wouldn't fight with them over places on a joint Knesset list." In a return to the hawkish image he downplayed as a minister, Lieberman attacked Arab MKs Ahmed Tibi and Muhammad Barakei, saying that they were more dangerous than Hamas head Khaled Mashaal and Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah. In a rare act of independence in Israel Beiteinu, Lieberman's No. 2, MK Yisrael Hasson, announced at the press conference that he opposed leaving the government. Lieberman's associates later accused him of preparing for a future in another party. Opposition MKs praised Lieberman for leaving the coalition. They expressed hope that Shas and Labor would soon follow and bring down Olmert's government. Olmert issued a statement saying he regretted Lieberman's departure, but that he intended to continue with the Annapolis process. "The prime minister told [Lieberman] time and time again that there is no alternative to serious diplomatic negotiations in an effort to achieve peace," the statement read. "This is the task of the hour and our national responsibility. Any concessions the government makes will be conditional on preserving Israeli security. The government's diplomatic steps unfortunately led to disagreements with Lieberman and his party. The prime minister is determined to continue diplomatic talks because he recognizes that this is the only real chance to guarantee peace and security for the citizens of Israel."