Lieberman: Right of Return Makes Arab Plan Unacceptable

FM explains stance on initiative at cabinet meet; Barak: Israeli regional peace plan will secure our future.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday his opposition to an Arab peace initiative stemmed from its demand for a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees to Israel proper.

"The clause on the right of return cannot be agreed to," he declared at a cabinet meeting on the government's diplomatic policy.

"This is a subject upon which there is wide agreement in the government and in the public as well."

Lieberman's criticism of various peace efforts has stoked consternation in Israel and abroad.

The firebrand rightist was earlier quoted by Army Radio as branding the Arab plan, which was launched in Saudi Arabia and offers pan-Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from Arab lands, as "a dangerous proposal, a recipe for the destruction of Israel."

After Lieberman ruled out the initiative, Defense Minister Ehud Barak reiterated the importance of seeking a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement.

"An Israeli program for a comprehensive regional accord is the main line of Israeli policy for the coming years, and secures Israel's future in the region," Barak said in closed meetings.

He added: "Israel needs to formulate with the United States the details of this initiative, which also includes guarantees for Israel's security interests, the security components and Jewish character of the state - without the right of return."

In Lieberman's first comprehensive interview on foreign policy since taking office, the foreign minister said the Obama Administration will put forth new peace initiatives only if Israel wants it to.

U.S. President Barak Obama, meanwhile, wishes to take up parts of the Arab peace initiative, and to request Israel and the Arab states begin implementing them gradually. The Americans believe that this will increase the trust and encourage progress on the direct Israeli-Palestinian track.

Haim Ramon, a lawmaker from the centrist opposition party Kadima, Wednesday called Lieberman's positions ridiculous.

"They do damage to Israel because they unnecessarily cause tension in the relations with the U.S.," he said.

Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz issued a similar condemnation of the foreign minister's comments. "Lieberman is behaving like an elephant in a china shop, and is causing strategic damage to the State of Israel," he said.

Pines-Paz said Lieberman was damaging the dialogue between Israel and the Obama administration. "In light of Lieberman's remarks, it is not certain whether there is any point in a Netanyahu-Obama meeting."

He was referring to the White House announcement on Tuesday that Obama has invited Egyptian, Israeli and Palestinian leaders for separate talks in the next few weeks on the Middle East peace process.