Lieberman Pushes His 'Plan B' in Response to Impasse in Talks With Palestinians

The foreign minister's proposal would avoid diplomatic stagnation while simultaneously skirting the conflict's core issues.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is working on a diplomatic plan for an interim agreement with the Palestinians.

He has already presented the general outlines to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and intends to give him the full plan soon. He would like to see it approved by both the "septet" of seven key ministers and the diplomatic-security cabinet so that it can be presented to Washington in the coming months as Israel's official position.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman - Emil Salman
Emil Salman

A senior ministry source said the plan, which Lieberman calls "Plan B," was drafted in response to the impasse in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on a permanent-status agreement. Lieberman told an annual conference of Israeli ambassadors yesterday that the plan is now undergoing final revisions, but is basically submission-ready.

Lieberman expects the Obama administration to resume pressing Israel on the Palestinian issue once the winter holidays end, and it will want to know what Israel's diplomatic plan is. Plan B is aimed at avoiding a situation of diplomatic stagnation while also skirting the conflict's core issues.

Behind closed doors, the foreign minister has said the plan is meant "to bring the peace process down to earth." He believes there is no chance of reaching a final-status agreement in the coming years, especially on the issues of Jerusalem and refugees.

"Even if we offered the Palestinians Tel Aviv and a retreat to the 1947 borders, they would find a reason not to sign a peace agreement," he said in his speech to the ambassadors yesterday. "The PA has an illegitimate government that isn't holding elections. We must not reach a [final-status] agreement with them."

Given both the deep disputes within Israel's governing coalition and the huge gaps between Israel and the PA, an interim agreement is the only possible solution, he told the diplomats.

"In the current political situation, I don't think it's possible to find a common denominator between [Shas chairman] Eli Yishai and [Labor chairman] Ehud Barak or between me and [dovish Likud minister] Dan Meridor, or even within Likud, between [ministers] Benny Begin and Michael Eitan," he explained. "In the existing political circumstances, it's not possible to present a diplomatic plan for a final-status agreement, because the coalition will simply no longer exist."

Lieberman's plan would significantly increase security cooperation between Israel and the PA, in order to further stabilize the West Bank and gradually transfer more security responsibilities to the Palestinians. It would also increase Palestinian freedom of movement in the West Bank and take other steps aimed at significantly improving the PA's economy, with the goal of eventually raising the West Bank's per capita gross domestic product to $20,000 a year.

Once the PA's economy is roughly on a par with Israel's, he argues, it will be easier to reach a final-status agreement.

But it is unclear whether the plan, which he has yet to show to any foreign official, includes turning additional parts of the West Bank over to PA control or evacuating illegal settlement outposts.

If Netanyahu rejects Lieberman's Plan B, the foreign minister intends to demand that Netanyahu publicly present his final-status plan and submit it to a referendum. "If the prime minister's plan for a final-status agreement wins a sweeping public majority, I'll accept that," an associate quoted him as saying.

Recognition addressed

The septet also met yesterday to discuss the growing trend among Latin American countries toward recognizing a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, as well as the PA's efforts to get the UN Security Council to pass a resolution denouncing the settlements.

According to the senior Foreign Ministry source, the ministry has been devising a series of sanctions Israel could apply should the PA continue pushing such unilateral moves, ranging from restricting PA activity in the West Bank to annexing territory there.