Itongadol.- Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, the head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, emphasized the importance of reaching a regional peace agreement, pointing Tuesday night to potential diplomatic and economic consequences if Israel fails to initiate solutions to its conflict with the Palestinians.
Liberman calls for regional peace, better ties with allies
Speaking at a closed Tel Aviv University conference a day before a major corruption investigation against his party was revealed, Liberman continued a string of recent pragmatic comments, as he criticized political rivals on both sides of the spectrum.
“We have to reach a political arrangement here,” stressed Liberman, in comments that wereleaked to Haaretz. “Not because of the Arabs but because of the Jews. We need to reach an arrangement here in the region. First of all, because this is important for our relations with the European Union and the United States. For whoever doesn’t know — and I’m sure most of you do — our largest market is the EU.”
Pointing to EU sanctions on Russia, Liberman argued that it is impossible to maintain good economic relations when the political and diplomatic relationship is under stress: “It does not work. We must internalize this. And we see when there is a deterioration in the diplomatic relations, what happens to the economic. And I can give the example that is closest and most familiar to me — what is happening in Russia. And the more developed a country is, the more sensitive it is to every political decision, or every change in the complex economic relations.”
Still, he said, there is not yet a crisis with Western allies. “It is far from a tsunami… What we have now is a soft breeze. If we do not initiate, we will face a diplomatic tsunami.”
The Foreign Minister said that a regional agreement with Arab states would allow Israel to devote more resources to research, development and technology.
Turning to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an erstwhile political ally, Liberman criticized his lack of initiative in finding a solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. “There is a status quo…a step forward and a step back. There is no initiative. I stand for initiative. We must initiate. Whoever doesn’t initiate, loses. This approach has failed…I have respect for Netanyahu, but for now, my approach is more appropriate for this time.”
Moving to Jewish Home chief Naftali Bennett’s plan to annex the West Bank, Liberman said, “I don’t want one state for two nations. I want a strong Jewish state.”
On the left side of the political spectrum, Liberman also dismissed the platform of Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog: “There is what the Labor Party is presenting — an agreement with the Palestinians at any price. There is no such thing as ‘at any price.’ There is no such thing as an agreement only with the Palestinians. I am talking about a general regional arrangement — Palestinians, Arab states, and Israeli Arabs. ”
Liberman had particular criticism for the government’s handling of relations with America, calling recent verbal attacks on the Obama administration “irresponsible.”
“There are disagreements with the US and this isn’t the first time,” he said. “We have always learned to manage this far from the press and in a respectable fashion.
“In the last operation in Gaza — on the 24th day, our critical ammunition was finished. It was the Americans who provided it. Not to mention the money they invested in Iron Dome…We have to understand what our natural size is, and how to act toward friends when we don’t agree.”
Likud officials fired back at Liberman Wednesday morning, saying that he was taking a sharp leftward turn. “Israelis need to know this time that a vote for Liberman means a vote for the left-wing government headed by Tzipi [Livni] and Boujie [Isaac Herzog], and the establishment of a Palestinian terror state, a second Hamastan, next to Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem,” he said.
The private conference was organized by Tel Aviv University’s Business-Academic Club. Dozens of senior businessmen were in attendance, Haaretz reported, including former Bank of Israel governor Yaakov Frankel, former minister Dalia Itzik, and TAU president Joseph Klafter.
Various media reports have indicated that Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party may cooperate with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu parties in the upcoming election, though the parties have said they did not intend to merge.
Liberman’s comments echoed his message from the night before.
“I wish pragmatism dominated the political discourse in Israeli society. We are torn between autism, pragmatism and fanaticism,” Liberman said at a book launch in Tel Aviv.
The foreign minister alluded to the much-reported crisis in relations between Washington and Jerusalem, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s harsh criticisms of US officials, which has gotten him in hot water recently.
“If you want a veto from the US [in hostile UN proposals] you need to understand that you can’t lash out against it,” Liberman said. “We have to come up with policy recommendations, we cannot be constantly saying no, no, no.
“Within the context of the crisis on the Middle East, it is imperative that Israel initiate solutions and push them forward. We must adopt a pragmatic approach, because without it, it won’t matter if we’re right.”
On Sunday Liberman accused his former partners in the Likud party of being “hysterical, just like the Jewish Home [party],” for asserting that a vote for the hawkish foreign minister’s party in the March 2015 electionswould bring about a left-wing government.