x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Israel's foreign minister says 'America accepts all our decisions'

Lieberman says Obama will not act without Israel's consent while his deputy foreign minister Daniel Ayalon says Israel will not move forward on peace talks with the Palestinians unless the US makes progress with Iran. In a surprising break with the position of the new Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr Lieberman does not identify Iran as Israel's greatest strategic threat. He places Afghanistan and Pakistan first, followed by Iran with Iraq third.

The Obama administration will only present new peace initiatives with Israel's consent, said Avigdor Lieberman during his first full length interview since taking office. "Believe me, America accepts all our decisions," Lieberman said. Israel's new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who grew up in the Soviet Union chose the Russian daily Moskovskiy Komosolets, not an Israeli newspaper, to give his first major interview since taking office. In a surprising break with the position of the new Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr Lieberman did not identify Iran as Israel's greatest strategic threat. He placed Afghanistan and Pakistan first, followed by Iran with Iraq third. Haaretz said: "Lieberman also discussed Moscow's under-utilised role in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and said he aims to correct this. The newspaper emphasised Lieberman's intention to develop closer ties with Russia and to resolve international issues jointly. " 'Russia has a special influence in the Muslim world, and I consider it a strategic partner that should play a key role in the Middle East,' Lieberman said in the interview. " 'I have argued for some time that Israel has insufficient appreciation for the 'Kremlin factor'; I intend to mend this gap,' he said. "Political sources in the Commonwealth of Independent States have told Haaretz that they believe Lieberman's appointment will result in 'greater understanding' between Israel and Russia. "Regarding his changing view on Israel's greatest threats, Lieberman said that since he began warning against the nuclear threat from Iran, nuclear threats have become more prevalent. Meanwhile, a more urgent problem has developed in Pakistan and Afghanistan. " 'Pakistan is nuclear and unstable, and Afghanistan is faced with a potential Taliban takeover, and the combination form a contiguous area of radicalism ruled in the spirit of Bin Laden,' Lieberman said. " 'I do not think that this makes anyone in China, Russia or the US happy ... these countries [Pakistan and Afghanistan] are a threat not only to Israel, but to the global order as a whole.' "In response to a question on Israel's role in countering these threats, Lieberman said, 'Our role is that we should bring the US and Russia closer ... it is unclear to me why the US needs to confront Russia on Kosovo or Ukraine's entry to Nato; however, Russia needs to understand that close cooperation with Hugo Chavez does not build western confidence.' "Later in the interview, the foreign minister spoke unkindly of the road map, which he called binding, unlike the Annapolis process, in his view. The Palestinians 'are not very familiar with the document,' he said. Lieberman called a two-state solution a nice slogan that lacks substance. "On Tuesday, Army Radio reported that Lieberman ruled out an Arab peace initiative, after previously announcing that Israel was not bound to the US-backed Annapolis process. " 'This is a dangerous proposal, a recipe for the destruction of Israel,' he was quoted as telling a closed meeting of senior foreign ministry officials." The Washington Post reported: "The new Israeli government will not move ahead on the core issues of peace talks with the Palestinians until it sees progress in US efforts to stop Iran's suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon and limit Tehran's rising influence in the region, according to top government officials familiar with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's developing policy on the issue. " 'It's a crucial condition if we want to move forward,' said Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, a member of the Israeli parliament and former ambassador to the United States. 'If we want to have a real political process with the Palestinians, then you can't have the Iranians undermining and sabotaging.' "The emerging Israeli position, a significant change from that of previous governments, presents a challenge for President Obama, who has made quick progress on Palestinian statehood a key foreign policy goal. Obama is also trying to begin engagement with Iran as part of a broad effort to slow its nuclear programme and curtail its growing strength in the Middle East." The Guardian said: "A majority of both Palestinians and Israelis are willing to accept a two-state solution, according to a poll from the international grassroots movement One Voice. "Based on public opinion research methods used in Northern Ireland, 500 interviews were completed in Israel and 600 in the West Bank and Gaza immediately following the Gaza war and the Israeli elections. "Each side was asked which problems they thought were 'very significant' and what the solutions might be. "The results indicate that 74 per cent of Palestinians and 78 per cent of Israelis are willing to accept a two-state solution on an option range from "tolerable" to "essential", while 59 per cent of Palestinians and 66 per cent of Israelis find a single bi-national state 'unacceptable'." In Haaretz, Gideon Levy wrote: "one begins to fear that another promising American president, perhaps the most promising of all, is about to fall into the honey trap of words and formulas. This president should be told now is not a time for words. Their time has passed. No more peace plan and - heavens forfend - not another outline; not negotiations, not a formula and not a summit. "All the plans are in a drawer, waiting for their day. Now is the time for deeds. "The only recognition that is needed now is Israel's recognition of the Palestinians as human beings. If this is obtained, all the rest will be relatively easy. The day will come when Israelis and Palestinians will not understand how they shed blood for so many years and why, but this day is further off than ever. "Now the time has come for the test of actions. Instead of wasting precious time on formulas, we need to take steps. Instead of dithering over verbiage, we need to make changes on the ground." Meanwhile, Haaretz reported: "A senior Hamas official said yesterday that firing rockets at Israel ultimately does a disservice to Palestinian interests. "Ismail al-Ashkar is a member of the security committee in the Palestinian Legislative Council and a leading candidate for the interior minister position. 'The firing of rockets at Israel is against the Palestinian interest. It benefits certain individuals and groups, but not the Palestinians themselves,' he said yesterday. "Since January 18, the Hamas armed wing, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has not taken credit for a single Qassam rocket. Sources in the Gaza Strip said just two weeks ago that Hamas detained Islamic Jihad operatives for trying to launch rockets. "Yesterday Hamas representatives met delegates from Islamic Jihad and smaller militant groups in order to ensure the cease-fire with Israel remains in force for now."

pwoodward@thenational.ae