At Saban Forum, Lieberman Accuses Abbas of Palestinian Disunity

In pictures: Avigdor Lieberman, Ehud Barak, and Tzipi Livni schmooze at Washington gathering.

Avigdor Lieberman seemed in good spirits on Friday night. Opening with a joke, the foreign minister emphatically declared "I am on the right!" when he and NPR radio journalist Robert Siegel sat themselves on stage at the annual Saban Forum, which took place over the weekend at the Willard InterContinental in Washington D.C.

Lieberman was on a roll. When asked about the vote to upgrade Palestine's status to non-member observer state at the United Nations, he said, "The real news is seeing me, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak around the same table: that's real domestic peace. On the Palestinian side, I don't see peace; I see a lot of disagreement."

From that point on, the foreign minister's tone turned somber, as he continuously slammed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and rejected all notions that Israel's announcement following the UN vote to expand settlement construction had anything to do with the diplomatic stalemate.

"We didn't see any peace from Gaza after we withdrew, [and] no peace from Lebanon," he said. "With settlements, we try not to provoke, but we have the right to define our capital, and settlement construction is part of our security. Settlements aren't an obstacle to peace, the opposite is true," he said, adding, "Thousands of people are being killed in Syria, Libya and Bahrain, but [what makes] the news is several buildings in Judaea and Samaria."

"The biggest problem is the international community's weakness, and [as was evident] yesterday at the UN, its hypocrisy," said Lieberman. "The real problems faced by the Palestinians are economic problems, healthcare, education and security."

The foreign minister relinquished Israel of blame for discontent among the Palestinians, accusing Abbas instead for failing to relieve the socioeconomic distress of his people – a stress that Lieberman said was also felt by other Arab states in the region. "What was the main reason behind the Arab Spring? It wasn't Israel and the Palestinians, it was poverty and misery. Why did Abbas lose the [2006] elections in Gaza? Because of poverty and misery. And because he wasn't able to deliver to the Palestinians," charged Lieberman, "We need a comprehensive solution with the Palestinians, but it's up to the Palestinians."

Lieberman continued, claiming that the finger pointed at him should be redirected toward Palestinian leaders like Abbas. "I am the bad guy," he said, "[but] I saw [Former Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert's proposal in Annapolis, and Abbas refused to sign it. What happened with [Former U.S. President Bill] Clinton and [Former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser] Arafat? Arafat refused to sign a [peace] agreement. You must understand that we are ready to sacrifice, but not to commit suicide."

It was then that Lieberman reached his finale: "Thanks to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority doesn't exist - Hamastan and Fatahland are thanks to his administration. He lost control - not because of Israel, but because of a corrupt and ineffective administration."

Lieberman was sure to praise the United States and President Barack Obama's administration before returning to his seat. "They made incredible efforts to provide for a cease-fire with Gaza, and they took a very courageous stand at the UN," he said.

Reuters
Natasha Mozgovaya