Many American Jewish leaders fumed Wednesday when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman proposed "an exchange of populated territory" as part of a Mideast peace deal in a speech before the UN General Assembly in New York.
Lieberman suggested ceding parts of Israel with large Arab populations to a future Palestinian state in exchange for Israel keeping large settlement blocs in the West Bank, a proposal which has been part of his party's platform.
Lieberman also raised the possibility of aiming for a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians, rather than a final-status one, but warned that this "could take a few decades."
Many Israelis and U.S. Jews were outraged by the foreign minister's speech, and several American Jewish leaders demanded Lieberman's resignation.
"If Lieberman can't keep his personal opinions to himself, he ought to resign from the cabinet," said Seymour Reich, a former president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
"Every time Foreign Minister Lieberman voices his skepticism about achieving peace, he undermines Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's credibility," agreed another New York Jewish leader. "Lieberman gives Abu Mazen [Abbas] and the Arab League an opportunity to reinforce their claim that Netanyahu isn't serious."
But Abraham Foxman, the long-time head of the Anti-Defamation League, told Haaretz that Lieberman's positions were not completely at odds with Netanyahu's policy, given the prime minister's stated view that implementation of any peace agreement would have to be spread out over a number of years.
"Lieberman explained that the conflict will not be solved within a year and that implementation of the peace agreement will take generations," Foxman said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had not seen Lieberman's speech in advance - but did not reject his land swap proposal.
The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement on Wednesday stating that "Lieberman's address was not coordinated with the prime minister," adding that "Netanyahu is the one handling the negotiations on Israel's behalf. The various issues surrounding a peace agreement will be discussed and decided only at the negotiating table, and nowhere else."
But sources close to Netanyahu have privately said he doesn't consider Lieberman's views to be illegitimate and does not intend to chastise him for the speech.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu is due to meet with U.S. envoy George Mitchell Wednesday morning in an effort to break the impasse over whether to extend the moratorium on settlement construction, which officially expired Sunday. The Obama administration wants Netanyahu to extend the freeze.
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