Foreign Minister: Freeze to End, Natural Growth to Continue
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said that the building freeze must end, that he would be willing to give up his home in Judea, that he would quit the coalition if the freeze continues, and that construction should continue only in certain areas – all in the past few days.
If Lieberman’s party quits the government, it is assumed that the more left-wing Kadima party would take its place.
With seemingly conflicting reports on the stance of the head of the Israel Our Home party making the rounds, Lieberman granted an interview to Voice of Israel Radio this morning (Wednesday) that supposedly clears up the situation.
"PA is Not Serious About Peace"
Lieberman told Voice of Israel’s Yaron Dekel this morning: “First of all, the Palestinians are clearly not coming to these talks with good will. They are coming because they were forced to come, but they keep on threatening to leave… There have been many ceremonies over the past years, and this will be another one… Everyone should lower their expectations. We’ve been working on this for 17 years since Oslo; there’s no magic solution that will suddenly grant us an agreement in one year, as the Americans say.”
Lieberman reiterated that the “Cabinet decision that the freeze will last only ten months is clear and unambiguous, and there is no reason for us to perpetuate the freeze after that time. This applies to Jerusalem as well: There are 1,000 housing units in Ramot, 600 in Gilo, Har Homa and elsewhere – does someone really expect us to freeze 1,600 units that have already passed all the stages of the approval process?”
Dekel asked: “And what should be the answer if Obama comes to Netanyahu and says, ‘This time, the talks are really serious, and I ask you, as a gesture of good will, to freeze construction in Judea and Samaria as much as possible.’ What should be his answer?
Lieberman: “The answer is very clear: We have [already] made the gesture. For ten months we have been waiting for the Palestinians to please come to the negotiations. They come at the last month - that’s their problem. On the contrary: We expect the Palestinian side to stop the incitement, stop naming city squares after terrorists, stop inciting against Israel in all sorts of international forums, with boycotts, court cases in the Hague, and not recognizing us as a Jewish state, etc… I think we have made enough gestures and concessions, and have received nothing in return… It can’t be that we always have to pay for the pleasure of sitting at a table with the Palestinians; let them pay as well.”
Lieberman was asked about the likelihood that even if the government decides to resume building, Defense Minister Ehud Barak – as head of the IDF, which effectively controls Judea and Samaria in place of the State of Israel – will not sign the required papers. Lieberman said that Barak’s signature is not required for construction in Jerusalem, nor for some 2,000 units that have already been approved in Judea and Samaria. Pressured to respond to the question on a larger scale, he said weakly, “From what I have heard from Barak, he too accepts the formula that we can build…” He also added that he does not foresee any coalition crisis on the horizon.
Lieberman was asked if he agrees with the idea espoused by some government ministers that building will resume only in settlement blocs, but not in the rest of Judea and Samaria. To this, Lieberman said that “natural growth” must be allowed throughout Judea and Samaria.
MK Aryeh Eldad, of the rival National Union party – a member of the Knesset opposition to the government – responded sharply to these remarks: “Lieberman has declared dozens of times that the freeze will come to an end in September. This shows once again that his promise is not a promise, and that he is simply a smooth politician with no ideology. One who announces that there should be only ‘natural growth’ outside the settlement blocs means that he really has no intention of remaining in [those parts of]
Asked about his pledge to leave his Gush Etzion home in Tekoa for the sake of peace, Lieberman clarified, “I have said countless times that if there was real peace, the end of the conflict, no more Palestinian demands, etc. – for such a thing, I would be willing to sacrifice my home, yes.”