Netanyahu, Lieberman spar as FM says no peace ‘for decades’

The prime minister is the one running negotiations on behalf of the state of Israel, PMO says.

Lieberman 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Lieberman 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
Peace with the Palestinians “could take a few decades,” and any final-status agreement would entail “not land for peace, but rather, [an] exchange of populated territory,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Binymain Netanyahu’s office distanced itself almost immediately from Lieberman’s remarks, informing the media that his speech had not been coordinated with Netanyahu.RELATED:PM silent amid world criticism of moratorium’s endLieberman backs away from land swap proposal
The prime minister is the one who is conducting the negotiations on behalf of the state of Israel, his office said.
The various subjects related to a peace agreement will be discussed and determined only around the negotiating table and not anywhere else, the Prime Minister’s Office added.
US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley confirmed that its active talks about the peace process had been held with Netanyahu and Barak, not Lieberman.
"We are in direct discussion with the prime minister. We had meetings last week with the defense minister, and we are actively engaged in working to continue direct negotiations. I will let the Israeli government comment on what the foreign minister had to say and whether that actually reflects the views of the Israeli government," Crowley told reporters in Washington.
An Israeli government source, however, noted that in a parliamentary system, ministers and MKs are at liberty to express their opinions in international forums. Such expression is not unusual and is understood by the international community, the source said.
The source added that Lieberman’s position had come up from time to time in internal discussions among Netanyahu, Lieberman and other ministers.
There are those who believe that it could be of assistance in finding a solution to the conflict, said the source. But there has been no formal governmental decision on this matter, the source added.
Still, in spite of the careful response from the prime minister’s office, Netanyahu’s people appeared to be angry about the content, the timing and the location of what Lieberman said.
Asked why they reacted in such a cautious manner, they made clear that they did not want difficulties with their largest coalition partner at a time in which Israel was facing international pressure.
Sources close to Netanyahu said, “We have enough problems without this. This isn’t the time to spark more fires. We have conflicts with the international community, and we do not need internal ones. We said we do not agree with what he said. We do not have to say more than that now.”
Lieberman said a “long-term intermediate agreement” prior to final-status agreements would most likely be necessary as a first component of a “two-staged” solution.
The intermediate agreement, Lieberman said, would be motivated by the “need to raise an entire new generation that will have mutual trust and will not be influenced by incitement and extremist messages.”
Lieberman added that creating such an emotionally conducive climate “could take a few decades.”
Lieberman stressed that he was not advocating population transfer as part of a final-status agreement; rather, that “moving borders to better reflect demographic realities” would be part of an effort to recognize and address the deep-seated friction between the two peoples.
Citing examples in East Timor, as well as the former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, Lieberman said that “where effective separation has been achieved, conflict has either been avoided or has been dramatically reduced or resolved.”
Lieberman said that “precisely this notion – that a mismatch between borders and nationalities is a recipe for conflict – has long been accepted as a virtual truism in the academic community,” referencing the term “right-sizing the state.”
“States and nations must be in balance in order to ensure peace,” Lieberman said. “This is not a controversial political policy.It is an empirical truth. Israel is not only where we are,” Lieberman asserted. “It is who we are.”
In his remarks, Lieberman expressed a desire to dispel flawed explanations of why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had continued although 17 years had passed since the signing of the Oslo Accords.
Lieberman noted that “more than 90 percent” of wars and war victims in the Middle East since World War II had not stemmed from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but “from conflicts involving Muslims or conflicts between Arab states.”
Addressing those who believed the conflict’s intransigence stemmed from “the so-called ‘occupation,’ the settlements in Judea and Samaria and the settlers themselves,” Lieberman noted that “all Judea, Samaria and Gaza were under Arab control for 19 years, between 1948 and 1967. During these 19 years, no one tried to create a Palestinian state.”
Pointing out that peace with Egypt and Jordan had been reached despite the settlements, Lieberman added that 21 flourishing settlements had been removed in Gaza and more than 10,000 Jews had been transferred.
“And in return, we have Hamas in power and thousands of missiles on Sderot and southern Israel,” Lieberman said.
The foreign minister said he also sought to disabuse those claiming that the Palestinian issue “prevents a determined international front against Iran.”
“This argument is not only flawed, it is completely irresponsible,” Lieberman said. “The same argument could be made that the Palestinian issue prevents action on North Korea, piracy in Somalia, the humanitarian crisis in Sudan or the challenge of Afghanistan.”
The connection between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lieberman said, is “precisely reversed.”
“Iran can exist without Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah, but the terrorist organizations cannot exist without Iran,” he said, adding that Iran was currently capable of foiling any peace agreement by means of terrorist proxies.
Therefore, Lieberman said, “in searching for a durable agreement with the Palestinians, one which will deal with the true roots of the conflict, and which will endure for many years, one must understand that first, the Iranian issue must be resolved.”
Additionally, the foreign minister said, the emotional component of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be addressed, as well as the practical one.
The “emotional problems,” he said, are “the utter lack of confidence between the sides and issues such as Jerusalem, recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and refugees.”
Due to these problems, he continued, focus should be on coming up with a “long-term intermediate agreement.”
Lieberman’s address was greeted by applause in the General Assembly. Among those in attendance was Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
“I think this was one of the best speeches I’ve heard,” Ayalon said of Lieberman’s address. “I think it was a speech with great vision, wisdom and courage.
“Maybe some people are afraid of the truth, but Mr. Lieberman was showing to the world a mirror through which realities in the world, and especially the Middle East, could be seen clearly,” Ayalon said.