REUTERS - Israel’s foreign minister said on Tuesday a peace deal with the Palestinians could take decades and pressed his own plan which seeks to get rid of as many Israeli Arab citizens as possible in a land swap.
In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York that was quickly disowned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman again exposed the serious differences between Netanyahu and him over peace prospects.
“The content of the foreign minister’s speech at the United Nations was not coordinated with the prime minister. Prime Minister Netanyahu is the one who is managing the political negotiations of the state of Israel,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu earlier this month entered U.S.-supervised talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas intended to reach an accord within a year, ending the 62-year-old Middle East conflict.
Ultra-nationalist Lieberman makes no secret of his desire to see Israeli Arabs who want to stay in Israel take a loyalty oath to the Jewish state, or have their communities transferred to some future Palestinian state by moving existing borders.
The incident underscored disagreement within Netanyahu’s five-party coalition government, of which Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel our Home) party is a key partner.
The speech also caused a walkout by Palestinian delegates to the assembly. “The remarks were so offensive that one cannot tolerate them,” Permanent Observer Riyad Mansour told Reuters. “This man is completely detached from political reality.”
Lieberman’s speech came as peace talks are on a knife-edge after Netanyahu declined to extend a partial freeze on settlement building that the Palestinians have said is essential to continuing the talks. The partial freeze expired on Sunday.
Abbas on Monday put off a threatened decision to quit the talks, saying he would consult Arab allies.
Lieberman told the General Assembly that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians hinged not just on practical issues but on “emotional problems” such as the “utter lack of confidence between the two sides.”
“That is why the solution should also be a two-staged one,” he said. “We should focus on coming up with a long-term intermediate agreement, something that could take a few decades.”
“We need to raise an entire new generation that will have mutual trust and will not be influenced by incitement and extremist messages,” Lieberman added.
He also said the guiding principle for a final agreement should not be “land for peace”—long the mantra of Middle East peacemakers—“but rather exchange of populated territory.”
“Let me be very clear: I am not speaking about moving populations, but rather about moving borders to better reflect demographic realities,” he said, adding that this was “far less controversial than some may seek to claim.”
But in a clear slapdown of Lieberman’s views, Netanyahu’s office said: “The various issues of the peace deal will be discussed and determined only at the negotiating table and nowhere else.”