Avigdor Lieberman
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo by AP
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Israel's many gestures to the Palestinians have been reciprocated by "slaps in the face," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday. Speaking to Haaretz by telephone from Japan, Lieberman said that "we took the unilateral step of deciding on a moratorium, a construction freeze in Judea and Samaria. We recognized two states for two peoples. We removed a dramatic number of roadblocks."

He said that "I think we made countless gestures, and what did we get in return? The glorification of terror." He added that "the day before Israel's acceptance by the OECD, [Palestinian Authority Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad approached dozens of countries with a request to sabotage that acceptance. They keep going on with their stories about war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. After all, [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas himself called and asked us, pressured us to continue the military campaign and overthrow Hamas."

Lieberman insisted that no agreement exists to freeze construction in East Jerusalem, that the United States has not dictated anything to Israel. He called the issue "a misunderstanding."

In response to the statement yesterday by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch that the police will continue to demolish illegal homes in East Jerusalem despite the proximity talks with the Palestinians, Lieberman said that "there is one law for everyone, and we can't disobey court decisions."

With regard to Fayyad's statement that a Palestinian state would be established unilaterally in the summer of 2011, Lieberman said that "I'm not interested in what Salam Fayyad declares. His pronouncements are not aimed at establishing a Palestinian state but rather to augment his political power."

Asked whether he had met recently with Fayyad, he said "No, God forbid .... I don't think now is the right time for talks."

With regard to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's meeting with the head of Hamas' political wing, Khaled Meshal, Lieberman said that "it's not new, but it's certainly an escalation, and we certainly see it as a very negative step."

 

Mr. Lieberman, is there no agreement to freeze building in Jerusalem?

There is no such agreement.

The Americans are lying?

Well no. Look, I think this is simply a misunderstanding. We aren't being contrary with anyone, including the Americans. We're not being contrary and we won't accept any dictates. The ordinary processes of life go on and we're not going to interrupt them.

But if the Americans come out and say there is a construction freeze, could it be that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised it to them and you don't know anything about it?

No. I think Bibi explained that there are procedures that will take such-and-such an amount of time and we'll go along with the acceptable things; it will be now just like it was before.

A representative of your party Yisrael Beiteinu, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, has announced that the police will continue to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem despite the proximity talks. Do you think this is the correct action to take?

It's hard for me to comment on something I haven't heard about while I'm in Japan, but there is one law for everyone, and we can't disobey court decisions. Usually in such a ruling it's only possible to carry out demolitions after all the appeals are over. I don't believe there is an enlightened country in the world that will say it doesn't want to carry out court decisions. Again, we are not being contrary, but no one expects us to interrupt our lifestyle and stop obeying court orders.

There is a court order that has been renewed time and again: to demolish the settler building in Silwan, Beit Yonatan. And it is not being carried out.

I think that every court order should be executed, and I've also been questioned about East Jerusalem and why Jews are building there. I asked one simple question in return: Let's imagine that the Israeli government decides to forbid Arabs in the eastern part of the city from buying or renting apartments in the west; what will they say about Israel in the enlightened world? That we are racist, an apartheid regime. But no one can imagine the Israeli government forbidding Arabs from East Jerusalem from living in the west. Today there are thousands of Arabs from the eastern part of the city living in the western part, and we don't see any problem with that.

It's a problem to equate private individuals with a country's takeover of disputed land.

Listen, we can't forbid anyone ... it's impossible that the Israeli government will forbid Jews of all people from building or buying in East Jerusalem. With all due respect to the proximity talks, they can't stop the processes of normal life.

That is, from your point of view, there's no room to make a goodwill gesture with regard to these talks?

I think we've made many gestures and all we've gotten in response are slaps in the face. As you remember, we took the unilateral step of deciding on a moratorium, a construction freeze in Judea and Samaria. We recognized two states for two peoples. We removed a dramatic number of roadblocks and allowed Fatah to hold a conference in Bethlehem.

Cooperation with Tony Blair led to [economic] growth of 8 to 9 percent in Judea and Samaria, while the rest of the world was in crisis. I think we made countless gestures, and what did we get in return? The glorification of terror, streets named after Yihyeh Ayash and Dalal Mughrabi. And they try to incite against us and cut us down in every international forum.

The day before Israel's acceptance by the OECD, [Palestinian Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad approached dozens of countries with a request to sabotage that acceptance. They keep going on with their stories about war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. After all, [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas himself called and asked us, pressured us to continue the military campaign and overthrow Hamas. And how many days later did he complain to the International Court in The Hague? And they keep on doing this.

How do you feel about Fayyad's announcement that he is working to unilaterally establish a Palestinian state?

I'm not interested in what Salam Fayyad declares. His pronouncements are not aimed at establishing a Palestinian state but rather to augment his political power. It's no secret that there's a lot of tension between Salam Fayyad and Fatah, and it's clear that all his pronouncements are meant to build his personal position, and political power for Salam Fayyad. It's clear that he has a lot of political ambition and he has apparently started to come out publicly and build a position for himself.

Which means you don't believe that a state will materialize?

He no doubt knows better than anyone that it's very much not worth it to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state. It's obvious to him, and he is aware of this better than you or me. He only stands to lose from such an event.

Why? Even if Europe recognizes it?

Never mind, he's on top of things and believe me he's very well aware of reality and there's no reason to think he'll act unilaterally.

I don't see what he has to lose.

The moment he starts unilateral actions, we will too, and it's obvious that on balance he will lose.

What kind of unilateral actions?

There are enough, we have a large arsenal of steps, you don't need examples.

Annexing territory?

Never mind, but believe me he knows for sure.

Wow. Have you spoken to him yourself?

No, God forbid.

Why 'God forbid'?

Because I don't think now is the right time for talks.

The prime minister says that Iran is trying to provoke a war between us and Syria. What do you think about this statement?

It's nothing new. The Iranians are always trying to tell Syria directly, and by passing on lies through Hezbollah, that we're going to attack at any moment. There's no doubt that they are happy that the attention given to their nuclear developments is moving on to a quarrel between us and Syria. I think the penny has dropped for the Syrians, too, and they understand these tricks.

It's not in the Syrians' interest?

No, definitely not.

The strategic affairs minister has mentioned that a military option exists to deal with Iran. How close are we to this?

I think there is no need to talk about any military option, and the Iranian problem is not Israeli, it's a problem for the entire world. But we definitely need to keep this option on the table. I expect first of all for clear and tough decisions by the UN Security Council.

That's the best way, there is an understanding now, and a readiness on the part of the international community. I hope we can reach this understanding at the moment of truth, which is clear to everyone right now.