The Prime Minister’s Office neither endorsed nor disassociated itself from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s scathing criticism of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, which appeared in a letter he sent to foreign embassies in Israel on Wednesday.
The letter was sent just hours before a Quartet team met separately in Jerusalem with PA negotiator Saeb Erekat and Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho to try and break the impasse in the diplomatic process.
In the letter, titled “Israel and the Palestinian Authority: Current Assessment,” Lieberman reached the “inescapable” conclusion that “no agreement will ever be possible as long as Mahmoud Abbas leads the Palestinian Authority, given his preference for sacrificing key Palestinian interests in favor of his historical legacy and personal future.”
Lieberman’s letter echoed comments he made at a press conference on Monday that it would be a “blessing” if Abbas carried out his oft-repeated threat and resigned.
While a source in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office refused to comment on Lieberman’s criticism of Abbas, one government source said if the Palestinians “want to prove Lieberman wrong, they can do one simple thing – they can agree to a return to the peace talks without preconditions.”
The official said that “the fact that the Palestinian Authority continues to raise new obstacles to direct talks would seem to reinforce the foreign minister’s point.”
Abbas, meanwhile, chaired a planned two-day meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah that began Wednesday night amid reports he was planning to make a “surprise” announcement.
Some Fatah operatives speculated that Abbas may either announce the dismantlement of the PA or submit his resignation in the coming days, something a senior aide to Abbas denied during a conversation with The Jerusalem Post.
The Fatah delegates will discuss the latest developments in the Palestinian arena, including the PA’s application for full membership in the UN and reforming the faction, said top Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed.
He said the council, which consists of more than 100 members, would also discuss efforts to achieve reconciliation with Hamas.
Sabri Saidam, the council’s secretary-general, said the delegates would also discuss the latest “threats” by Israel against Abbas – a reference to Lieberman’s recent campaign.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said that Lieberman’s actions were also aimed at damaging the Quartet’s efforts to restart the stalled peace negotiations between the two sides.
“Lieberman wants to end the role of the Quartet in the region,” Abu Rudaineh charged. “The Quartet’s efforts have been met with Israeli intransigence, including refusal to stop construction in the settlements and recognize the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations.”
Lieberman’s campaign against Abbas, he added, is an “unacceptable and sick policy and it will only rally our people behind President Abbas.”
An official close to Lieberman denied his letter was aimed at derailing the current Quartet efforts, but was rather the result of frustration that no matter what Abbas does – whether it be continuing to stay away from negotiations, or taking unilateral steps at the UN – the international community will give him a “free pass.”
Quartet envoy Tony Blair said in an LA Times interview published Wednesday that the purpose of the Quartet’s separate meetings with the sides was to push them to submit detailed proposals for borders of a future Palestinian state, and the measures that will be taken to ensure Israel’s long-term security.
Blair said that once detailed proposals on borders were presented, it would be possible to see how wide the gaps were, and whether there was a basis for negotiations.
After Molcho met for over two hours with Blair and the other Quartet representatives – David Hale from the US, Helga Schmid from the EU, Sergei Vershinin from Russia, and Robert Serry from the UN – the PMO issued a statement saying that it was decided that the sides would set up another meting for a continuation of the discussion, an indication there was no breakthrough at Wednesday’s meetings.
Lieberman’s letter to foreign delegations here – itself a very rare move – was written in English and, according to foreign ministry officials, reflected his views, and not necessarily those of the ministry. The ministry, one official said, was not involved in drawing it up.
Israel, Lieberman’s letter read, “has gone to great lengths to build confidence and create an atmosphere conducive” to resuming negotiations with the PA.
“In stark contrast,” the letter continued, the Abbas led PA has “adamantly refused to engage in direct negotiations, pursuing an increasingly hostile, confrontational and unilateral approach. This conduct has effectively blocked any possibility for political progress and, if left unchecked, could endanger the vital economic and security cooperation which exists on the ground between the sides.”
The letter charged that Abbas was motivated primarily by concerns for his historical legacy and personal welfare, “apparently seeking a dignified exit from the political scene. In this regard, his energies are focused on ensuring that he be seen as the Palestinian leader who led to the establishment of a Palestinian state and achieved internal unity between Fatah and Hamas.”