Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman in an interview on Reshet Bet (Radio Two) on the program Haboker HaZeh (This Morning)
Aryeh Golan: We have with us this morning Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman. Good morning, sir.
Minister Avigdor Liberman: Good morning.
Golan: So, in addition to the massive, continuous, nonstop American pressure to halt all construction in [West Bank] settlements, Europe is now proposing, through Javier Solana, that the U.N. unilaterally announce the establishment of a Palestinian state, should the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians fail. It would seem that all your visits to Europe, and the Prime Minister’s visits, and all the talks you held, have not had any effect on the person in charge of the EU’s foreign policy, and he is now talking about a double agreement.
Minister Liberman: Actually, I don’t think this truly represents the stand taken by the European Union. I think the statement should be construed in the context of a very human situation. Javier Solana is about to retire, he will be leaving his position by the end of the year, someone else will replace him. Like anyone else in a similar situation, he too is attempting to make a few statements, to leave a legacy, to be remembered for some unique accomplishment. But when push comes to shove, everyone knows that the existing agreements in this region were never achieved by coercion but only by direct communication between the two parties. We have the successful precedents of the peace with Egypt and peace with Jordan, both of which were achieved only by direct talks between the two parties. Therefore we hold on to the concept that peace cannot be forced upon anyone; peace must be built. It is up to us to build peace, it cannot be achieved by coercion.
Golan: So what you are saying is that neither the United States nor Europe will support such a forced solution.
Minister Liberman: Only recently we heard President Obama speaking in great detail about the conflict in the Middle East, and he too said that there is no substitute for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and that nothing can be accomplished by coercion. So far our entire policy and practice in our dealings with the UN and Europe have been based on this concept. Therefore I repeat that, with all due respect to Solana, his statement was the type one makes before retiring or stepping down; one should not read too much into it.
Golan: In fact we’re waiting to say to him, „Goodbye, Javier”.
Minister Liberman: We’re not waiting for anyone, we do not get involved, especially not in what happens in the European parliament; there have been elections there and there will be significant changes. However, what is interesting in this context are Abu Mazen’s statements. Here we are witnessing an interesting case: the more Abu Mazen’s authority and legitimacy decline, the more he increases his demands and the more rigid he becomes in his attitude.
Golan: You’re referring to the statement that the Palestinians will not give up on the issue of the right of return.
Minister Liberman: I’m referring to everything, to his entire speech. First and foremost one has to understand the basis for Abu Mazen’s legitimacy. After all, when we signed an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, we signed it with an administration that represents all Palestinians. Today you have Fatah-land in Judea and Samaria and Hamastan in Gaza. And who exactly does Abu Mazen represent? Only half the people, at best.
Golan: In that case, you’d have to say Hamas is the representative, because they won the last elections.
Minister Liberman: I said neither is representative. We will never make a deal in which, as it were, we pay full price for an asset but receive only half an asset.
The other point that is important to understand is that, according to the Palestinian Constitution, in the second half of 2009 there should have been elections here.
Golan: Is it desirable for us that they hold elections? You know what was the outcome of the last elections.
Minister Liberman: I don’t see elections as happening even in the second half of 2010. But whether you adhere to the constitution of the Palestinian Authority that you represent or not – if you’re in power without elections, and if you in fact represent barely one half of the population, then your legitimacy is doubtful, as is your demand for a total freeze on the settlements. After all, it’s been sixteen years since we signed the Oslo accords and undertook those commitments. During all that time Israel has been negotiating with the Palestinians and has always continued to build in existing settlements in Judea and Samaria.
Golan: So far this has been an American demand. What you are in fact saying is that Abu Mazen cannot be a partner in talks since he does not have legitimacy as Chairman of the Palestinian Authority; he was not elected now.
Minister Liberman: The way I see it, the demand for a freeze is not legitimate either. As you may recall, even while Abu Mazen was negotiating with the Olmert and Livni government, Israel continued to build in existing settlements in Judea and Samaria. The same goes for his new demand; or for his advice to Netanyahu, to replace Liberman with Tzipi Livni. Great advice.
Golan: Perhaps he got the idea from President Sarkozy; you know – he may have adopted the suggestion Sarkozy made to Prime Minister Netanyahu when they met.
Minister Liberman: As far as I’m concerned, this is a compliment… Obviously, it is clear to Abu Mazen that he is dealing with a government that will not give up on Israel’s interests, one that demonstrates sang froid and staying power. Therefore all of Mazen’s demands are simply a reflection of his distress and inability to conduct negotiations and spearhead a true political process.
Golan: Let’s get back to Europe for a moment, sir. Regarding Britain, there’s a main headline in today’s Haaretz – „U.K. hits Israel with partial arms embargo over Gaza war”. Britain has been supplying the Israeli Navy with weapons and will now stop this supply. Do these sanctions take you by surprise?
Minister Liberman: Look, I can’t comment on this specific case. Israel has survived through many embargoes in the past, such as the French embargo after the Six Day War, and even an American embargo in President Reagan’s days. We’ve had our difficult times with different countries, and we’ve always managed somehow. I wouldn’t get too worked up over this or that decision.
Golan: Well, perhaps you’re taking a different news item more to heart today. There’s an item in today’s Yedioth Aharonoth about something going on in the Syrian channel. Some effort made by the United States: an envoy named Fred Hoff, George Mitchell’s Chief of Staff, will come here and will present a map that was drawn up in Washington and that includes a proposal for borders between Israel and Syria and security arrangements for the Golan Heights; and from here Hoff will continue to Damascus. Is anything really happening on this dormant front, as far as you know?
Minister Liberman: In this case, too, our position is very clear. I have said on several occasions, including on Radio Two, that we are ready for direct negotiations with the Syrians anytime, anywhere, and with no preconditions. We have never made any commitment of the type we heard yesterday. Only yesterday the Syrian foreign minister made very clear, unequivocal demands that Israel go back to the ’67 borders. We do not intend to do so, there will be no such commitment. If they want to negotiate – we’d be more than happy to oblige; if they insist on preconditions – they will have to wait as long as it takes.
Golan: To conclude, please tell me, sir, have you had an invitation from Cairo?
Minister Liberman: It’s no secret that we are constantly negotiating with Egypt. Only yesterday we met with the Egyptians. Next week the director general of the foreign ministry is going there. The wide scope of our contacts with Egypt has not been diminished or harmed in any way. On the contrary – I think that on many levels, some higher and some lower, but on all levels and in a variety of channels there is ongoing communication with Egypt.
Golan: But you have not received an invitation yet.
Minister Liberman: Well, you know, I’m not the one dispensing invitations… But like many others, I and my staff do our work, and I think the public appreciates it. Despite this and that commentary by the media, everything we’ve seen so far in surveys, including on Radio Two and the Israel Broadcasting Authority, points to satisfwith our work in the government, with my work in the Foreign Ministry; it’s all beyond what we may have expected.
Golan: Minister Liberman, I thank you very much for this conversation. Have a good morning.
Minister Liberman: Good morning.