Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman turned some heads on Friday when he urged Israel to accept the peace deal currently being brokered by Washington.
Liberman, who spoke to the British Telegraph newspaper, said that the offer being promoted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was “the best offer Israel will ever receive.”
He told the newspaper, in his first major interview since returning to office in November, that Kerry deserved praise and thanks for his efforts to bring Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) together.
“It’s the best proposal we can get and we really appreciate the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry. He has really put a lot of energy into the issue,” Liberman told the Telegraph.
He added that it was “crucial” for Israelis to maintain contact with the PA, no matter how limited the prospects of success.
“With or without a comprehensive solution we will continue to live together and continue to be neighbors. There are many problems on the ground, so this direct contact, this negotiation, these talks - it’s very important to keep alive and maintain,” said Liberman.
Kerry has set the two sides a target of April to reach a “framework agreement” that would work as a guideline for a final peace deal.
The goal of the deal is to establish an independent Palestinian state and settle such contentious issues as the jurisdiction of Jerusalem and the so-called “right of return”.
Liberman waved away several years of hostility between the Obama White House and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as “differences between friends”.
While he still criticized PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, whom he called to remove in a 2012 letter to EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, he did not refer to Abbas as a “diplomatic terrorist” in the Telegraph interview.
Instead, he said, there is a question mark over whether or not Abbas “can deliver the goods” in the peace talks.
“You must be ready for compromise, but I am not sure he is able. But we must check [wait for] this possibility because we [Israelis] are ready to go far,” said Liberman.
He declared that Arab Israeli citizens who remain in Israel must decide where their true loyalty lies, Israel or the potential future “Palestine.”
“They live in some kind of schizophrenia, they don’t know if they are Israeli citizens or if they are Palestinians. Even during our football games you see Palestinian flags,” said Liberman, who has proposed that land Israel swaps with a future Palestinian state include the cities where some 300,000 Arabs live.
He admitted, however, that it was perhaps the “mistake of leadership, of our governments - more than Arab mistakes” that has created division.
Liberman’s moderate tone, compared to his tough talk in his previous term in office, caught the attention of the Telegraph, which noted that his “apparent transformation from hardliner to pragmatist will boost hopes that this time could be different, and that one of the world’s most obstinate and damaging conflicts could be at last resolved.”
The newspaper that the “firebrand politician” who said that Gaza should be treated like “Chechnya” and who called for the execution of Arab-Israeli MKs who had met members of Hamas was gone.
Liberman told the Telegraph, perhaps a sign of his new persona, that his biggest challenge as foreign minister was to have Israel associated with issues other than “the Palestinian conflict, terror and Iran”.
He wanted, he said, to “open the eyes of international community to our achievements – to our very successful economy, agriculture, water management, science, high tech industry.”
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)