Netanyahu and Lieberman - Reuters and Olivier Fitoussi
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo by Reuters and Olivier Fitoussi
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday distanced himself from the letter penned by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to the Mideast Quartet, which called for the removal of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"The Foreign Minister's letter does not represent the position of the prime minister or that of the government," said a senior official in Netanyahu's office.

"The prime minister agrees that Abu Mazen (Abbas) creates difficulties in negotiations but he intends on continuing efforts to promote dialogue with the Palestinians," the official said.

The Prime Minister's Office also stressed that "Israel does not intervene in internal politics in other places."

In his letter, Lieberman called on the Quartet to press for new elections in the Palestinian Authority to replace Abbas, whom he described as an obstacle to peace.

Earlier Wednesday, Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Abbas, said that Lieberman's letter to the foreign ministers of the Middle East Quartet is "incitement" that brings on an "atmosphere of violence and instability."

In a statement, Abu Rudeina stressed that the PA demands that the members of the Quartet – the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations – reject Lieberman's requests since they are inciting to violence and murder.
"Lieberman's comments regarding elections in the PA constitute meddling in internal Palestinian affairs," he said.

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.

A senior source in the Foreign Ministry said that Lieberman, in a meeting Tuesday 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.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland commented on Wednesday on Lieberman's letter to the Quartet members: "We've obviously seen the letter. We've also seen comments in the last few hours from Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has clarified that the foreign minister's letter doesn't reflect his position and that he has responsibility for these issues."

Nuland added: "I think you know that we have a good working relationship with President Abbas… and so we expect to be able to continue to work well with him."

According to Nuland, "this letter went to all members of the Quartet, and it was actually addressed to Lady Ashton. So I don't know whether the Quartet will choose to respond to it given the fact that the prime minister has already made his own comments with regard to the letter. But if so, I would guess that Lady Ashton would respond on behalf of all the Quartet members."