'Lieberman agreed to cede territory'

During Clinton administration, right-wing leader also agreed to J'lem compromise, new book says.

Lieberman makes point 224 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Lieberman makes point 224 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman conducted a secret dialogue with Palestinian negotiators at the end of the Clinton administration, according to a new book by former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. Indyk, who also served as the US State Department's assistant secretary for Near East affairs during that administration, recounts that the Palestinian negotiator who had met with Lieberman, Muhammad Rachid, reported that he had secured the right-wing leader's support for then-prime minister Ehud Barak's plan for territorial compromise with the Palestinians, as well as current prime minister Ehud Olmert's agreement to give up Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Indyk did not indicate whether he believed Rachid's claims or write about the response Lieberman or Olmert had to them, but said that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's reliance on the information was part of what led him to believe he didn't need to make a deal with Barak at Camp David since the Israeli right would also make the same concessions. The story is part of Indyk's lengthy new book on America's efforts to forge a peace between Israelis and Palestinians, titled Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East. Its publication coincided with the American political cycle, as a new administration has just come into office and begun to roll up its sleeves on the Middle East conflict. But its political reverberations might be felt most in Israel, as many of the same players - Lieberman, Barak and current opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu - are competing in elections to be held next Tuesday. Lieberman's spokeswoman responded that "the facts, as portrayed in Indyk's book are not correct." Indyk at several points expresses understanding for the steps taken by Barak, who pushed hard for a peace deal at Camp David and Taba in the final days of former US President Bill Clinton's term - and what turned out to be his own. "Notwithstanding his almost hopeless circumstances, Barak would not change course," Indyk writes as Barak was losing political support while violence raged against Israel and continued negotiating. At the same time, he faults him for not demanding more emphatically a halt to the violence as a condition for talks to continue, suggesting that might have forced Clinton to emphasize more aggressively to the Palestinians the need for it to stop. Throughout the book, Indyk backs up many of Israel's perspectives on the process, most notably blaming Arafat for the failure of a peace deal. "The truth is that the Camp David summit in July 2000 failed because Arafat rejected Clinton's offer on Jerusalem, an offer that Americans and Israelis regarded as generous but that fell short of Arafat's minimum requirements," he said. He added that the task of telling the Palestinian people that the majority of refugees had no "right of return," even though they would receive compensation and a token amount of repatriation inside Israel, left Arafat "too scared to tell the truth" to make a deal. Indyk is only the latest in a line of American peace brokers to level such charges against Arafat; near the beginning of the book he quotes Clinton using much harsher language to the same end. Briefing incoming US Secretary of State Colin Powell on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Clinton had unleashed a tirade, according to Indyk. "Don't you ever trust that son of a bitch. He lied to me and he'll lie to you," he told Powell. "Don't let Arafat sucker punch you like he did me." Indyk does challenge the Israeli perspective that the second intifada was orchestrated prior to then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, calling it a "spontaneous eruption," though he criticizes Arafat for having "sat with his arms folded" rather than tamping down the violence. Though largely sobering in its record of missed opportunities and bitter lessons for the Obama administration to apply, the book also includes some amusing anecdotes, as when US officials developed a protocol to keep Arafat from moving in for his traditional kiss during the handshake on the White House lawn during the Oslo signing - then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had ruled out any such display. State Department official Ed Djerejian "developed a technique for shaking hands with the right hand while placing the left hand firmly on the bicep of Arafat's right arm so that he would be unable to embrace and kiss his greeter," Indyk recounts. "[National Security Advisor] Tony Lake taught the president the same technique in case Arafat tried it on him. The president demonstrated with a knee to Tony's groin what he might do if the technique failed."