lieberman - ap - Sept 3 2010
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo by AP
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Every cadet at the Foreign Ministry learns that a diplomat is not supposed to reveal what he really thinks of the government's policy. He is commanded to keep to himself and his family his assessments regarding the gulf between the prime minister's public pronouncements and reality.

At most, the diplomat whispers his critiques in the ear of a political correspondent. But Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is doing from a diving board, what a diplomat is prohibited from doing in the deep end of a pool, namely dismissing the chances for a permanent peace deal in our generation at the same time the prime minister is negotiating over such things in Washington.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embraces Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Avigdor Lieberman swats the Fatah chairman's backside.

Lieberman is certainly not alone, though. Foreign Ministry officials, who escort distinguished guests from abroad visiting Israel, hear similar assessments from the septet of high-level ministers. Even Dan Meridor, who is competing with Michael Eitan for the title of the most left-wing member of the right, repeatedly expresses great skepticism about the chances of signing a deal for a permanent arrangement in the foreseeable future.

Meridor, who attended the discussions on refugees at the 2000 Camp David Summit, has a hard time believing that the Palestinians will waive the right of return. Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who remains close to the prime minister, talks of an interim arrangement that will include the evacuation of isolated settlements, without waiting for the outcome of the negotiations over the final status and the end of the conflict.

Even on the left, Lieberman has a senior partner. Dr. Yossi Beilin, the patron of the Geneva Initiative, chose to replace the immediate addressing of all the core issues with a partial arrangement, believing that a bird in hand (an interim arrangement ) is better than two (a final status agreement and regional peace ) in the bush.

This is taking place in the height of the "partners campaign" of the Geneva Initiative headquarters, which features key Palestinian figures including Yasser Abed Rabo, Beilin's partner in preparing the outline for the final status arrangement and one of the closest associates of Abbas. Saeb Erakat, who heads the PLO's negotiations team and who is also taking part in the public relations campaign, is calling on the Israeli public to support the two-state solution. His confession, "I know we disappointed you" is drawing heavy fire from his base.

If among Israelis there is widespread concern that a final status arrangement with the Palestinians will turn out to be temporary , the Palestinians have learned that with Israelis, the temporary easily turns into the permanent.

The impending solution was intended to combine the permanent with the temporary. The American mediators will strive to get the parties to sign a framework agreement that is based on the principles of the Clinton outline from December 2000: the 1967 borders; proportional territorial exchanges; disarmament of assault weapons; division of sovereignty in eastern Jerusalem based on the ethnic makeup of the neighborhoods; realization of the right of return in the Palestinian state.

The signing of such an agreement in principle by Netanyahu and Abbas, with accompanying timetables, will pave the way to interim stages. The first stage should be delineating settlement blocs that will be freed of the construction freeze.

The Palestinians returned from the Washington summit with a sense that the Americans, for a change, understand them and perhaps favor their side. The optimism prevailing in Ramallah is not due to cautious hope that Netanyahu will decide to divide Jerusalem. It stems from Obama's promise that the United States will not surprise the Palestinians, a formulation for years reserved for the "special relationship" between the U.S and Israel.

This is what Abbas received in return for his consent to open direct negotiations.

On the Israeli side as well, there was much greater interest shown in Jerusalem's relationship with the U.S. as seen in the remarks of the chairman of the National Security Council upon the return of the Israeli delegation: according to Uzi Arad, Netanyahu managed to bring an end to the conflict with Obama. There was not a word about the conflict with the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu's speech recalled Menachem Begin's speech at the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt (for example, the declaration that terror will not subdue the peace process ). The anxiety among the residents of Judea and Samaria could indicate that they believe him; they are now organizing a protest against the prime minister.

A few months ago, it was reported here that a survey by the Hebrew University's Truman Institute shows that most settlers support the use of legal means to thwart a government decision to evacuate communities in the West Bank. I also reported that over a fifth of those surveyed "believe that all means must be employed in to resist the evacuation of most West Bank settlements, including the use of arms." Following a reader comment, it should be noted that the appendage, "including the use of arms" was not actually part of the question and was too broad an interpretation for it to be included in "all means."

Still no decision

The attorney general recently announced a reform in the handling of investigation files. Here is a file, for example, that is waiting for the implementation of the reform plan: Three and a half years ago, on April 25, 2006, the State Prosecutor's Office notified the High Court of Justice that the police fraud squad opened a criminal investigation into the possibly illegal construction of hundreds of apartments in the Matityahu Mizrah neighborhood of Modi'in Ilit.

The police looked into suspicions that the head of the Modi'in Ilit Council, Yaakov Guterman (who has since become the mayor ), helped developers and large construction companies who took control of large tracts owned by the village of Bi'lin.

There were also suspicions of forgeries by Jewish land dealers and settlers' organizations, who ostensibly acquired the lands from village residents.

The Justice Ministry spokesman responded that: This is a very large file which required a number of investigations to be completed, with the last one being finished in March. The file continues to be reviewed by the State Prosecutor's Office and no decision has been made yet about the file.