Drop the ‘land for peace’ slogans and stop Iran, Lieberman urges world leaders

By David Horovitz April 24, 2009

As Hillary Clinton warns Israel it risks losing support on Iran if it rejects progress with the Palestinians, the new foreign minister tells the ‘Post’: PA recognition of ‘Jewish state’ is not a precondition * Hamas must be ‘suffocated’ * Don’t even mention ‘right of return’

The international community has to ‘stop speaking in slogans’ if it really wants to help the new Israeli government work toward a solution to the Palestinian conflict and help bring stability to the Middle East, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, in his first interview with an Israeli newspaper since taking the job.

‘Over the last two weeks I’ve had many conversations with my colleagues around the world,’ he said. ‘Just today, I saw the political adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Chinese foreign minister and the Czech prime minister. And everybody, you know, speaks with you like you’re in a campaign: Occupation, settlements, settlers…’

Slogans like these, and others Lieberman cited, such as ‘land for peace’ and ‘two-state solution,’ were both overly simplistic and ignored the root causes of the ongoing conflict, he said.

The fact was, said the Israel Beiteinu leader, that the Palestinian issue was ‘deadlocked’ despite the best efforts of a series of dovish Israeli governments. ‘Israel has proved its good intentions, our desire for peace,’ he said.

The path forward, he said, lay in ensuring security for Israel, an improved economy for the Palestinians, and stability for both.

‘Economy, security, stability,’ he repeated. ‘It’s impossible to artificially impose any political solution. It will fail, for sure. You cannot start any peace process from nothing. You must create the right situation, the right focus, the right conditions.’

He said the government would be completing its thorough foreign policy review in the next two weeks, and that it would be made public for the first time at the scheduled May 18 White House talks between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The foreign minister spoke as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Israel on Thursday that it risks losing Arab support for combating threats from Iran if it rejects peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Clinton said Arab nations had conditioned helping Israel counter Iran on Jerusalem’s commitment to the peace process.

‘For Israel to get the kind of strong support it is looking for vis-a-vis Iran, it can’t stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts. They go hand in hand,’ Clinton told the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. ‘They (Arab countries) believe that Israel’s willingness to re-enter into discussions with the Palestinian Authority strengthens them in being able to deal with Iran,’ she added.
In the course of his wide-ranging interview, which will appear in full in Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post Independence Day supplement, Lieberman insistently refused to rule in, or rule out, Palestinian statehood alongside Israel as the essence of a permanent accord, but emphatically endorsed Netanyahu’s declared desire not to rule over a single Palestinian.

Equally emphatically, he said no peace proposal that so much as entertained the notion of a ‘right of return’ to Israel for Palestinian refugees could serve as a basis for negotiation.
‘It cannot be on the table. I’m not ready to even discuss the ‘right of return’ of even one refugee,’ he said.
But he also made clear that Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was not a precondition for progress.

‘You know, we don’t want to torpedo the process,’ he said. ‘But somebody who really wants a solution, somebody who really desires a real peace and a real agreement, must realize that this would be impossible to achieve without recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.’

Lieberman said the new government would have no dealings with Hamas, which needed to be ‘suffocated,’ and that the international community also had to maintain the long-standing Quartet preconditions for dealing with the Islamist group.

The real reason for the deadlock with the Palestinians, said Lieberman, ‘is not occupation, not settlements and not settlers. This conflict is really a very deep conflict. It started like other national conflicts. [But] today it’s a more religious conflict. Today you have the influence of some nonrational players, like al-Qaida.’
And the biggest obstacle to any comprehensive solution, he said, ‘is not Israel. It is not the Palestinians. It’s the Iranians.’

Lieberman said the prime responsibility for thwarting Iran’s march to a nuclear capability lay with the international community, not Israel, and especially the five permanent members of the Security Council. He was confident that stringent economic sanctions could yet achieve the desired result, and said he did not even ‘want to think about the consequences of a crazy nuclear arms race in the region.’

He said it would be ‘impossible to resolve any problem in our region without resolving the Iranian problem.’ This, he said, related to Lebanon, Syria and problems with Islamic extremist terror in Egypt, the Gaza Strip and Iraq.

Nonetheless, Lieberman stressed that Israel did not regard stopping Iran as a precondition for Israeli efforts to make progress with the Palestinians. Quite the reverse, he said. ‘No, we must start with the Palestinian issues because it’s our interest to resolve this problem. But there should be no illusions. To achieve an agreement, to achieve an end of conflict, with no more bloodshed, no more terror, no more claims – that’s impossible until Iran [is addressed].’

Noting what he called Syria’s deepening ties with Iran, Lieberman said he saw no point whatsoever in resuming the indirect talks with Damascus conducted by the last government.

‘We don’t see any good will from the Syrian side,’ he said. ‘Only the threats, like ‘If you’re not ready to talk, we’ll retake the Golan by military action…”

Asked whether it troubled him to be perceived as an extremist in some circles, including overseas, Lieberman laughed and said, ‘So it’s easy for me to surprise them.’

He said he believed his international colleagues ‘respect me, and that they understand that I say what I mean, and I mean every word that I say.’

As to whether his legal problems – he is under police investigation for alleged corruption – or other factors might lead to his ouster from the job, he said he believed this coalition would serve its full term, and that he would serve the full term as foreign minister.

With Amir Mizroch

© The Jerusalem Post