Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has sent a letter to the foreign ministers of the Middle East Quartet members, calling on them to press for new elections in the Palestinian Authority to replace PA President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Lieberman described as an obstacle to peace.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, is dated August 20 and was sent to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The letter is the high point of a campaign Lieberman has been conducting in the past year to delegitimize Abbas, but it is the first time he has suggested a concrete process for removing him, such as holding new elections. Lieberman did not claim that Abbas is involved in terror attacks against Israel, but stressed that he is acting against Israel in the legal and diplomatic arenas.
"The Palestinian Authority is a despotic government riddled with corruption," Lieberman wrote. "This pattern of behavior has led to criticism even within his own constituency. Due to Abbas' weak standing and his policy of not renewing the [peace] negotiations, which is an obstacle to peace, the time has come to consider a creative solution, to think 'outside the box,' in order to strengthen the Palestinian leadership."
The creative solution Lieberman suggests is to hold general elections in the PA areas of the West Bank.
"Despite Mr. Abbas' delays, general elections in the PA should be held, and a new, legitimate, hopefully realistic Palestinian leadership should be elected," Lieberman stressed. "The PA elections were due to be held in 2010 and have since been postponed several times. As of today, no new date has been set for elections."
Lieberman noted in his letter that only a new Palestinian leadership is likely to bring progress in the peace process with Israel. "We must maximize the holding of new elections in the PA, alongside the tremendous changes in the Arab world, in order to bring a serious change to the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians."
In his letter, Lieberman lists a serious of gestures that Israel has made toward the Palestinians this year, such as signing a new financial agreement three weeks ago regarding the transfer of goods between Israel and the PA, as well as related tax procedures that will, in Lieberman's words, "improve the PA's tax system, increase revenues and bolster the Palestinian economy."
He also mentioned the issuing of thousands of additional work permits to Palestinian laborers, returning the bodies of terrorists to the PA, removing roadblocks and more.
"Unfortunately, despite these steps ... we see a rise of Palestinian activity against Israel in the diplomatic and legal arenas," he wrote. He noted "attempts to accelerate illegal construction in Area C (including dragging the EU into this problematic activity ), to encourage an economic boycott on the Israeli economy in the territories and ... a relatively new campaign, blaming Israel for the murder of Yasser Arafat."
Lieberman stressed in the letter that Abbas was "either uninterested or unable" to reach an agreement that would bring an end to the conflict because of his weak political position. For corroboration, he referred the foreign ministers to the Jordanians, who he noted had "made a great effort to facilitate direct dialogue between Israel and the PA," but had gotten nowhere due to Abbas' attitude.
"This situation is very clear to the Jordanians," he wrote.
A senior source in the Foreign Ministry said that Lieberman, in a meeting yesterday with 20 senior Israeli ambassadors, said he had written the letter because he sensed that his messages on the Palestinian issue were not being properly conveyed to Western countries.
"A European foreign minister visited here and came to me with complaints about the Palestinian issue," Lieberman was quoted as telling the ambassadors. "I told him about all the gestures we've made toward them and he said, 'That's interesting. I never heard about this."
According to the source, Lieberman reprimanded the envoys and demanded that they be tougher and make sure the messages get through to the foreign ministers of their assigned countries, even if it means going over clerks and diplomats' heads.
"The message that we convey abroad has to be clear," Lieberman was quoted as saying. "We mustn't take a self-deprecating approach, in which we are only apologizing and that even when we make gestures, then the poor Palestinians are only getting what's coming to them. The gestures we make to the Palestinians are not an obvious matter and are not what's coming to them. We have to make these things clear and stop apologizing."
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