Israel's Lieberman Vows to Block Extension of West Bank Building Freeze
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said his party and its allies will stop any government effort to accept Palestinian demands that a partial West Bank construction freeze be extended.
Lieberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beitenu party, told Israeli Army Radio today that building should resume as soon as the 10-month moratorium declared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expires Sept. 26.
“Yisrael Beitenu has enough power in the government and in parliament to make sure that no such proposal succeeds,” he said in the broadcast interview. The party, founded by Lieberman and fellow immigrants from the former Soviet Union, has 15 seats in the 120-member parliament, making it the second largest in the ruling coalition after Netanyahu’s Likud.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview published today that letting the moratorium expire would spell the end of negotiations. Netanyahu told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week that there has been no change in plans to end the freeze.
If Israel “extends the settlement freeze, we will continue the negotiations, and if it does not, we will leave the talks,” Abbas told the Ramallah-based al-Ayyam newspaper.
Netanyahu told a group of visiting members of Congress today that he hopes Abbas doesn’t withdraw from the talks.
“There are many issues that we did not agree upon in our discussions and the only way to reach an agreement on them is through direct, continuing negotiations, without interruptions or delays,” Netanyahu said, according to a text message from his office.
Abbas is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu and Clinton next week for more talks in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and Jerusalem. Lieberman, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, near Bethlehem, said he doesn’t oppose peace talks with the Palestinians.
“We’d be thrilled if a peace agreement were achieved that includes the entire Middle East, but I’m trying to stay aligned with reality and that means that what we need now is a long-term temporary arrangement,” he said.
Palestinians have rejected proposals for negotiating on anything short of a full peace agreement that would establish the permanent borders of a Palestinian state and resolve disputes over the status of Jerusalem and the fate of refugees.
The Palestinian leader said in the Al-Ayyam interview that the first issues to be negotiated will be borders and security.
‘Outside The Box’
Netanyahu said at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting that Israelis and Palestinians must think “outside the box” and come up with new answers to reach a peace agreement.
The prime minister declared the building moratorium in November in a bid to restart peace talks, which had been frozen since December 2008. He said housing construction would be stopped for 10 months in West Bank settlements, excluding some 3,000 homes that already received government approval, as well as public buildings such as kindergartens and community centers.