Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday that Israel must accept U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal for a framework agreement with the Palestinians since “any other proposal from the international community won’t be as good.”
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But Lieberman also said that his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, would not support any agreement that did not include transferring Israeli Arab towns in Wadi Ara and the Triangle region to Palestinian sovereignty.
Lieberman made the comments during his speech at the annual ambassadors’ conference Sunday, as Kerry travelled back and forth between Jerusalem and Ramallah in an attempt to forge an understanding regarding the framework agreement. The secretary of state visited Jordan Sunday as well, where he met with King Abdullah, then continued on to Riyadh to meet with Saudia Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Kerry tried to enlist the support of the two nations and, through them, the backing of the Arab League for the framework agreement that will most likely present in full in late January.
Lieberman and Kerry met on Friday morning and spoke about Lieberman’s upcoming speech, among other topics. The Americans knew that Lieberman would include a positive message in his address to the ambassadors, but were surprised at the extent of support the minister expressed for Kerry’s proposals. A senior American official stated that the remarks Lieberman made are evidence that Netanyahu would have strong political backing should he decide to accept Kerry’s framework agreement.
Addressing the ambassadors gathered at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Lieberman spoke almost entirely without looking down at his notes – until he reached the part about the peace process. Then, he took the pages in his hand, and read word for word. “I most certainly support a true, sustainable, and comprehensive agreement,” said Lieberman. “Even with all of the doubts in my heart regarding the true intentions of the other side, dialogue between us is important. Even when we disagree, when we don’t really trust one another, the ability to engage in dialogue and live our joint lives in a reasonable way is of the utmost importance.”
Lieberman praised Kerry for his efforts, as well as his proposals for a security agreement, and his efforts to gain Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. “We cannot ignore the magnitude of his efforts, as reflected in the media, at least regarding the issues that are most important to us,” said Lieberman. “I am well aware of the fact that everyone else from the international community that brought us alternative proposals did not bring us such clearcut positions on the two issues most important to us. And other proposals from the international community would be worse for us.”
However, Lieberman also presented a series of demands that he said he believes must be included in any permanent agreement with the Palestinians, most importantly, “land and population swaps,” which would see Israeli Arab towns in Wadi Ara and the Triangle region transferred to Palestinian sovereignty.
“As far as I’m concerned, a condition for an agreement with the Palestinians is also an agreement on Arab Israelis,” said Lieberman. “I know that it’s not politically correct to say so, but without land and population swaps, Yisrael Beiteinu will not support any agreement. This is not a transfer… we’re not going to kick anyone out of their homes or take their property. It’s simply moving the border so that it would be near Route 6. If someone thinks I’m referring to the Triangle and Wadi Ara they’re correct. There is no reason that they should not join their Palestinian brothers under full Palestinian sovereignty, and become citizens of the Palestinian state that they so long for.”
Lieberman added that he will not agree to the right of return for Palestinian refugees in Israeli territory, “not even one single person.” According to Lieberman, even suggesting such an option would lead to incredible international pressure to allow entry for hordes of refugees that “future governments might not be able to handle.” Lieberman added that after a Palestinian state is created, Syria and Lebanon are likely to expel hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from their territories. “Let’s think one step forward,” said Lieberman. “Can the economy of Judea and Samaria, which aren’t exactly Switzerland or Norway, really handle another million Palestinians? Where will they live? What will they eat? Where will they work? And how will it affect Israel?”
Kerry returned to Israel Sunday evening but was not planning to hold additional meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, having met both leaders extensively throughout the weekend. He is to leave the region Monday and return for yet another visit next Monday.
Kerry sounded relatively optimistic about the chances of a breakthrough agreement. During a press briefing before flying to Jordan Sunday morning, he called on Israelis and Palestinians to focus on the big picture -- reaching a peace agreement -- and not get bogged down in day-to-day conflicts. He was referring to the “blame game,” currently being played by Netanyahu and Abbas over incitement, settlement construction, and other issues. He stressed that the ideas that he and U.S. President Barack Obama are set to present will be fair and balanced, and will allow all sides to guarantee their security.