MK David Rotem cannot understand why Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were so taken aback by the speech Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gave at the UN on Tuesday.
Speaking to Arutz Sheva's Hebrew language service, the Yisrael Beiteinu MK said that “the Foreign Minister's views are well known to all, and have not changed... What the Foreign Minister said in that speech is the same thing he has been saying for years. So for any minister or politician to say that they are surprised at Minister Lieberman's comments is a bit misleading.”
In the speech before the UN General Assembly Tuesday, Lieberman said that he did not expect a true peace agreement to develop between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the near future. “We need to arrive at a long-term interim agreement,” Lieberman said. Such an arrangement will “enable Palestinians to enjoy economic growth and freedom of movement, and allow future generations of Israelis and Palestinians who were not educated on values of hate to achieve peace, after several decades.”
A permanent agreement, Lieberman said, must be based on land swaps that would de facto mean population swaps. He suggested making areas with concentrated Israeli Arab populations part of the PA instead of areas in Judea and Samaria with large Jewish populations which would be then recognized as part of Israel.. Lieberman stressed that he was referring to redrawing the borders in a way that reflects demographics, and not to actually moving populations from their current locations.
Criticizing the speech, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office said that they did not necessarily approve of Lieberman's remarks, and that Lieberman had not coordinated the speech with Netanyahu. Responding to a reporter's question, an official said that “the Prime Minister is the one who handles negotiations and sets policy on behalf of the state of Israel.” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the speech “does not reflect the stance of the government, and certainly not the stance of the Labor party. The Labor party believes in continuing the direct talks in order to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians, and in order not to play into the hands of Israel's enemies,” Barak said.
The State Department also weighed in, saying that the “divergent views” on the future of the Israel-PA negotiations were an internal Israeli matter, but added: “We are in direct discussion with the prime minister. We had meetings last week with the defense minister, and we are actively engaged in working to continue direct negotiations,” implying that Lieberman was not – or should not be – a party to the discussions. In reaction, MK Rotem said that “the U.S., and anyone else, can talk or not talk to whomever they want. But talking or avoiding issues or personalities will not change any facts, or beliefs – and the fact is that Foreign Minister Lieberman's plan is the only practical one at this point.”
Lieberman's speech seems to have spurred a competition between Labor and Kadima, with each party trying to position itself as the left-of-center leader. Labor MKs called for Netanyahu to fire Lieberman, while Kadima MKs called for Netanyahu to replace Labor with their party, in order to stabilize the coalition and allow Netanyahu to safely bypass Lieberman. But neither plan is likely to work – and neither will be good for the country, MK Rotem said. Labor, with 13 MKs, was in no position to dictate party policy, while Kadima would fully delegitimize Prime Minister Netanyahu's government.
“I was opposed to the idea of a unity government altogether after the last election,” MK Rotem said. “The right won by a clear majority, and the left – both Kadima and Labor – were unnecessary. The term 'unity government' in Israel has come to mean 'the Right wins the election, and the Left runs the government.'” Regardless of the vitriol and calumny heaped on Lieberman's head, neither he – nor the rest of Yisrael Beiteinu – intend to change their points of view, Rotem said. “Israel must remain a Jewish and Zionist state, and we will do what is necessary in order to accomplish this.”