Netanyahu gov't reconsidering road map

'Post' learns thorough policy review includes stand on diplomatic components of Annapolis process.

lieberman cabinet meeting 248 (photo credit: AP)
lieberman cabinet meeting 248
(photo credit: AP)
The Netanyahu government is conducting a thorough policy review in which all diplomatic components - from the road map peace plan to the Annapolis process - are being reevaluated, The Jerusalem Post has learned. It is for this reason that the Prime Minister's Office was unwilling to comment last week on Avigdor Lieberman's maiden speech as foreign minister, in which he trashed the Annapolis process but said Israel was obligated by the road map, a document whose final goal is a two-state solution. The prime minister has no intention of addressing in detail issues such as whether his government is bound by the road map or the Annapolis process until the policy review is completed, the Post has learned. Netanyahu's speech to the Knesset last week, in which he said his government was committed to peace and a three-pronged policy toward the Palestinians that would allow them to rule themselves without endangering Israel, was probably about as specific as he will get in public for the time being. "Over the next few weeks, the government will undergo a policy review on a range of issues, and it is premature to speak of specific government positions," one senior government official said Sunday. Referring to Lieberman's remarks, the official said that until the government adopted a policy, the comments of various ministers reflected their own positions, but not government's. The degree to which Netanyahu's and Lieberman's policies seemed to differ became apparent during two internal meetings on Sunday. At the first meeting Lieberman held with the Foreign Ministry's top echelon, he said it appeared to him that 90 percent of the ministry's time and energy was devoted to the Palestinian issue, something he said was a mistake. Yet later in the day, at a meeting in the Prime Minister's Office where a draft of a document describing the government's guidelines was being discussed, one of the clauses stated that the government viewed resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of its central objectives and would work to do so. One government source said there seemed to be a contradiction between what was said in the Foreign Ministry in the morning and at the Prime Minister's Office in the afternoon. An official in that office said it was necessary to reevaluate the road map, which Lieberman said last week obligated Israel to the letter, because the status of that document had changed. For example, according to the road map, there was supposed to be a final-status agreement by 2005, the official said. In the interim, the Annapolis process had short-circuited the road map, moving the third phase - the one calling for final-status negotiations - up to the beginning, the official said. As a result, the document had to be looked at anew before any sweeping policy statements could be made on it. In this vein, it was not yet certain that Netanyahu would travel to Washington at the beginning of May - in time for the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference - for a meeting with US President Barack Obama, since it was unlikely he would want to hold that first meeting until Israel's position on these basic issues became clear. "The fact that a minister says something does not obligate the government," the official said. "A lot of ministers have different viewpoints; policy is decided by the government, not individual ministers." One draft version of talking points on the new government's diplomatic policies, to be circulated eventually to the relevant ministries, was discussed on Sunday but not yet approved. Among the points in the draft were the following: Israel is obligated by international agreements. The government will work to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, views this as one of its central objectives, and does not want to rule over the Palestinians. The efforts to bring about peace must not start with Israeli concessions, which have not proven themselves in the past, but rather from building strong Palestinian governmental institutions, a strong Palestinian economy, and the Palestinian abandonment of terrorism. The failure to reach an agreement in the past was because the Palestinians would not accept one, and because they have never recognized Israel as a Jewish state. The government is just now formulating its polices, and the international community should withhold its criticism and judge the government by its actions. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday that the new Israeli government would have to accept the creation of a Palestinian state, stop construction in West Bank settlements and remove roadblocks, "so that we can resume dialogue in order to reach a political solution." Abbas was speaking during a visit to Baghdad, the first such visit to Iraq by a Palestinian leader since the 2003 US-led invasion. AP contributed to this report.