Israeli foreign minister calls for intermediate peace agreement with Palestinians, land swaps

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Israeli calls for intermediate peace agreement

UNITED NATIONS — Israel’s foreign minister called Tuesday for an intermediate agreement with the Palestinians, a position directly at odds with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is trying to reach a final peace deal in the coming year.

Speaking at the annual ministerial meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, Avigdor Lieberman also said the guiding principle in a final agreement must not be “land-for-peace” but an exchange of land “to better reflect demographic realities.”

He said the solution must be “two-staged” because the “emotional problems” between Israelis and Palestinians can’t be resolved until a new generation is raised that has mutual trust “and will not be influenced by incitement and extremist messages.”

“Under these conditions, we should focus on coming up with a long-term intermediate agreement, something that could take a few decades,” Lieberman said.

The prime minister’s office immediately distanced Netanyahu from Lieberman’s comments.

“The contents of the foreign minister’s speech at the U.N. were not coordinated with the prime minister,” it said. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the one heading the political negotiations on behalf of the state of Israel. The various subjects of the peace agreement will be discussed and set only around the negotiation table and not in any other place.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who heads the Labor Party, said “Lieberman’s remarks do not reflect the position of the Israeli government and certainly not the position of the Labor Party.”

“The Labor Party believes it is vital to continue the negotiations and toward a breakthrough to achieve a peace accord with the Palestinians, and not to play into the hands of israel’s enemies,” Barak’s office said in a statement.

During Lieberman’s speech, two Palestinian diplomats got up and walked out of the assembly chamber. The seats for Iran and Iraq were empty when shown on U.N. television.

Lieberman heads Yisrael Beitenu, an ultranationalist party that is the second-largest member of the coalition government led by Netanyahu. He also is a West Bank settler.

While Lieberman is not directly involved in the Mideast negotiations, his comments illustrate the hardline pressures that Netanyahu faces if he begins to make concessions to the Palestinians. In his speech, he alluded to the perception of differences in the government.

“I want to emphasize that contrary to what is often shown in the international media, the political arena in Israel is not divided between those who seek peace and those who seek war,” Lieberman said. “Everyone wants peace and the controversy in Israel centers on the specific question of how to achieve this peace; how to reach security and stability in the region.”

In trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, Lieberman said there are practical problems but equally important emotional problems, “first and foremost the utter lack of confidence between the sides and issues such as Jerusalem, recognition of Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people and refugees.”

This lack of trust cannot be solved until a new generation is raised, he said.

“To achieve a final status agreement, we must understand that the primary practical obstacle is the friction between the two nations,” Lieberman stressed.

He spoke as U.S. special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, rushed to the region to try to keep peace Israeli-Palestinian peace talks from collapsing just weeks after they began.

Israel’s decision to resume new West Bank settlement construction after a 10-month moratorium expired at midnight Sunday has angered Palestinians who threatened to abandon talks if building resumed. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he wouldn’t make a decision until he consults senior Arab officials in Cairo next week, giving U.S. mediation a brief window to find a solution.

In his speech, Lieberman insisted that the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not Israel’s “so-called ‘occupation’” of the West Bank and the settlers themselves.

“The other misguided argument is the claim that the Palestinian issue prevents a determined international front against Iran,” he said.

“In truth, the connection between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is precisely reversed,” Lieberman said. “Iran can exist without Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, but the terrorist organizations cannot exist without Iran.”

As a result, he said, to deal with “the true roots” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “the Iranian issue must be resolved.”

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem told the General Assembly that “in Israel, there is much talk about peace, yet the drums of war continue to sound.”

He warned that Israel’s continued settlement activities are about to make a two-state solution where Israel and Palestine live side-by-side in peace a “dead letter than stands no chance of survival.”

Nonetheless, Al-Moualem said, Syria wants peace and “is ready to resume peace negotiations from the point where they stopped through the Turkish mediator.”

He reiterated that a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 war, “is not negotiable nor is it a bargaining chip.” Netanyahu has not said he is willing to cede the territory Syria wants.

Turkey, a predominatly Islamic nation which has close ties to Arab nations and Israel, mediated four rounds of indirect peace negotiations between the two countries in 2008, But Syria suspended the talks in December 2008 over Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.

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