German lawmakers underwhelmed by Lieberman

In Berlin, FM says conflict is between moderates and extremists, not Israelis and Palestinians.

Lieberman Germany 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Lieberman Germany 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
A day after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman wrapped up his first diplomatic trip to Europe by meeting with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in Berlin, a pair of German lawmakers on Friday said the visit had left them somewhat disappointed. "It was a swan song of soft power in every way," Werner Hoyer, a foreign policy expert for the opposition, pro-business Free Democrats told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, according to a translation provided by the German English-language Web site, The Local. "Lieberman sees us Europeans as a pile of cowards." In his meeting with Steinmeier, Lieberman urged Berlin to support stronger ties between the EU and Israel, and not to condition this on progress in talks with the Palestinians. He urged Germany to support the upgrade when the EU and Israel are scheduled to discuss the issue next month. Lieberman, according to his office, told Steinmeier that the conflict in the Middle East was not between Israel and the Palestinians, but rather between extremists and moderates. He pointed out that Egypt's major challenge right now was the Muslim Brotherhood, just as Lebanon's major problem was with Hizbullah, and the Palestinian Authority's was with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, not Israel. Regarding Iran, Lieberman said that Teheran was trying to buy time by delaying negotiations until after the elections there in June, or even until after Ramadan, which begins in late August. He also warned that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would trigger a "crazy" nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Steinmeier, meanwhile, called on Lieberman to abide by previous agreements with the Palestinians and to back a two-state solution. "It's important to strengthen moderate forces in the region and actively engage in peace efforts," Steinmeier said in a statement after the meeting. Meanwhile, Gert Weisskirchen, a foreign policy expert for the center-left Social Democrats, said Lieberman had focused mostly on containing Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas. "If I try to frame it in a positive light, then Lieberman is playing the role of the bad guy," Weisskirchen said, adding that although Lieberman spoke of the threat from Iran, he didn't recommend military action. He added that Lieberman had described peace negotiations thus far as an "industry" of fruitless diplomatic meetings. However, Weisskirchen also said the foreign minister hadn't directly criticized a two-state solution and that he had urged the European Union to provide assistance to the Palestinians. Germany was Lieberman's last stop on a five-day European trip that also took him to Italy, France and the Czech Republic.