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LIEBERMAN'S LEAP TO ISRAEL'S CENTER

Avigdor Lieberman (Photo: Amit Shabi)

 Does Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman realize something about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the rest of his far Right wing colleagues do not?  Lieberman, who has a well-earned reputation for his caustic comments, is no fool; so surely there is more than meets the eye about the Foreign Minister's recent praise for Kerry. By contrast, in the Knesset, Lieberman once declared that former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to 'go to hell!' for refusing to visit the Jewish state.

'You must be ready to compromise, but I am not sure he (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) is able to do so. But we must check this possibility because Israel is ready to go far'. - Avigdor Lieberman

 'It is the best proposal we can get and we really appreciate the efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’. That is Foreign Minister Lieberman's startling appraisal about Kerry's purported framework for further peace negotiations with the Palestinians. This at a time that Housing Minister Uri Ariel charged that Kerry's warning about economic boycotts of Israel smacked of anti-Semitism! The far Right cabinet ministers in Netanyahu's coalition had been competing with each other in bashing Kerry, apparently some with an eye on playing to their political gallery. Even Netanyahu had to step and quietly warn his firebrand partners to tone down their rhetoric. Now back in charge of the Foreign Ministry, a new Avigdor Lieberman has grabbed Israel's political stage; he has switched from a notorious hothead to the prudent diplomat seeking a peaceful solution to Israel's vexing dispute with the Palestinians that he says is impeding a current opportunity for Jerusalem to promote ties with the Sunni Arab world, which is also facing the Iranian nuclear threat. Just listen to Lieberman in an interview with the British Telegraph: 'You must be ready to compromise, but I am not sure he (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) is able to do so. But we must check this possibility because Israel is ready to go far'. After being investigated for over ten years on suspicion of financial corruption, Lieberman appears to have returned to his former position with renewed energy after he was virtually declared persona non grata by Washington and other key capitals during his first term. All that will obviously change after his praise for Kerry. But Lieberman may have another motive, one that Israel's far Right has not realized.

...an estimated 650,000 Palestinian men, women and children left what is now the state of Israel. Unlike every other refugee case in the world, they claim their descendants, who now total an estimated five million, are also entitled to refugee status.

 Kerry's proposal purportedly includes a clause calling for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. In addition it also nullifies the Palestinian claim to 'right of return' to their former homes, which they left, by force or their own free will, after they and the Arab countries rejected the Palestine Partition Plan of 1947 and sent armies to destroy the new born state of Israel. Consider this: an estimated 650,000 Palestinian men, women and children left what is now the state of Israel. Unlike every other refugee case in the world, they claim their descendants, who now total an estimated five million, are also entitled to refugee status. After being told by their leaders for more than six decades that they will eventually return to their former homes, is it reasonable to expect they will now accept a peace plan that rejects their claim rather than to settle in their new state of Palestine or in the Arab countries where they have been residing since 1948? (After all these years, Jordan is the only Arab state that has granted them citizenship.) The prospects are very slim, if not non-existent.

Even Dr. Saeb Erekat...has declared, "Never in a thousand years will we recognize Israel as a Jewish state!”

 Neither are they likely to endorse a peace proposal that recognizes Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, although Israel will be required to recognize Palestine for the Palestinians. Even Dr. Saeb Erekat, who has been negotiating with Israel's Tzipi Livni, has declared: “Never in a thousand years will we recognize Israel as a Jewish state!” But this is a rock-solid condition of Israel, and with good reason: The influx of hundreds of thousands, or millions of Palestinians would swamp the Jewish state and lead to its destruction.

...Mahmoud Abbas would like nothing better than to renew his diplomatic intifada at the UN, where he can count on an automatic majority that will support his demand for a return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

 Now look at the other side of the scales, after the Arab world rejected the Partition plan and then proceeded to drive more than 650,000 Jewish refugees from their homes in the Arab states: These Jewish refugees, who have been forgotten over the years, had to begin new lives in Israel after having to leave all their property behind. Conclusion: If the Palestinians are bound to reject Kerry's proposal for negotiations why should Israel volunteer to reject it and then be blamed by the U.S. and international community for torpedoing Kerry's peace mission? In fact, Mahmoud Abbas would like nothing better than to renew his diplomatic intifada at the UN, where he can count on an automatic majority that will support his demand for a return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. The current situation facing Israel recalls that facing former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2003, when U.S. President George W. Bush presented the so-called Roadmap peace plan on behalf of the UN, the EU, and Russia. Sharon did not think much of the desire or ability of President Abbas to negotiate a two-state solution, but Sharon realized that Bush was bent on mobilizing international support for the U.S. war in Iraq, and so the Israeli leader accepted the Roadmap move, while adding fourteen of his own reservations, which no one took seriously. But Sharon proved right, and the Roadmap petered out in the face of Hamas terrorism.

 Lieberman in Sharon's wake?

As for Lieberman's timing, with his legal issues out of the way, Lieberman can now mount a long-term bid to become future prime minister.

 And speaking of the late PM, is Lieberman also about to make a leap from the Right to the Center in domestic politics? Although Lieberman has acted as a virtual dictator in his own party, he has also shown signs of pragmatism with his proposal to exchange the 'Arab Triangle' for Palestinian territory on the West Bank. The Israeli Arabs would not leave their homes, but simply become incorporated into the new Palestinian state, lock stock and barrel. However it is doubtful this idea will ever take off, because the Israeli Arabs are dead set against giving up their equal rights and benefits as full Israeli citizens and agreeing to be governed by the future Palestinian state. As for Lieberman's timing, with his legal issues out of the way, Lieberman can now mount a long-term bid to become future prime minister. Netanyahu's current term expires in 2017, and then he might step down. Lieberman could then throw his hat into the ring. When he looks around he sees Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon as the Likud frontrunner and Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home as the Right's leading contenders. The Likud is still smarting from the amalgamation with Lieberman that cost them Knesset seats in the last election. There is only a slim prospect that the predominant Mizrachi members of Likud would ever vote for a Russian immigrant as party leader. So, in the lack of any dominant leader in the Center or Left, Lieberman might consider following in the footsteps of Arik Sharon, who bolted the Likud and formed the Centrist party Kadima in 2005 in order to carry out the Gaza withdrawal. 

 

 

 David Essing 



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