Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's speech before the UN, which was in stark contradiction with the official position of Israel's government, has set Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on edge, prompting them to shake all connection with his statements. They were not the only ones.
Minister Isaac Herzog went so far as to say that the peace process may even alter the coalition's makeup, adding that he hopes "this happens as soon as possible."
According to the foreign minister, reaching a comprehensive peace agreement in the coming years is unrealistic. He said a long-term intermediate agreement would allow the Palestinians economic growth and freedom of movement while giving both sides ample time to "raise an entire new generation that will have mutual trust and will not be influenced by incitement and extremist messages."
Many ministers asked about the matter on Tuesday preferred not to respond. However, others said that Lieberman's speech, made by an official representative of Israel on such an important international stage, incurred damage on the country and was meant, in essence, to harm fledgling talks with the Palestinians and the chances for their renewal after the Israel's construction moratorium on West Bank settlements was not extended.
The main critics hailed from the Labor Party. Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog said, "A foreign minister that shames his country before many is a genuine Israeli technique. Direct talks will result in a dramatic shift on the political map and in the coalition makeup. Hopefully, this will happen as soon as possible."
Minister Avishay Braverman went a step further and called for Lieberman's dismissal.
Another senior cabinet member said, "The writing was on the wall. Did anyone really believe that Lieberman could be a foreign minister?" Yet another minister said that is likely Lieberman "made these statements out of anger that Ehud Barak is more involved than he is in the peace process, while Lieberman is nearly entirely disconnected."
Another interpretation brought up was that "Lieberman is signaling that he can cause Netanyahu damage and that he will not be in the government forever."
Lieberman remained consistent with his known policy line, and this is not the first time he has made statements that contradict the government's official policy regarding negotiations. However, the political establishment has already started discussing the option that Lieberman's party, Yisrael Beiteinu, will be replaced by Kadima if needed.
Kadima blasted Lieberman over his statements, but have said that they are not engaged in talks to join Netanyahu's government.
Some within the political establishment estimated that Lieberman's statements have not necessarily damaged Netanyahu's position, and perhaps could even have improved his odds in the game of give and take with the international community. In actuality, the sources said, the contradiction in Lieberman's statements may allow Netanyahu to strengthen his political claims of seeking coalition stability in his decision not to renew the West Bank settlement building freeze.
US weighs in
Meanwhile, officials in the US clarified that Netanyahu, not Lieberman, was heading Israel's negotiations with the Palestinians.
Asked about Lieberman's speech, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told reporters to turn to Israel for explanations on whether the foreign minister's comments reflected the position of Netanyahu's government.
"I’m not questioning that there may be divergent views between the prime minister and the foreign minister, but I’ll defer to the Israeli government to explain the difference. The prime minister told us that there are difficult politics on his side, and this is perhaps a manifestation of that,” Crowley said at a press briefing.
"We are in direct discussion with the prime minister. We had meetings last week with the defense minister, and we are actively engaged in working to continue direct negotiations. I will let the Israeli government comment on what the foreign minister had to say and whether that actually reflects the views of the Israeli government."
Special Mideast envoy George Mitchell arrived in Jerusalem on Tuesday in an effort to rescue the fledgling Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. He has already met with Barak and is scheduled to hold talks with Netanyahu and the Palestinian leadership as well.
Mitchell is also set to meet with Arab leaders before the Arab League follow-up committee meets in Cairo on October 4, when Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is to announce whether or not he will continue direct talks with Netanyahu.
The negotiations, relaunched on September 2 after months of tortuous shuttle diplomacy, were on the brink of collapse after a 10-month moratorium on the building of new settler homes in the West Bank expired on Sunday.
"We understand we're in an intense period of time where we need to find a way to help both sides resolve the immediate situations and continue negotiations," Crowley said.
He added: "We're dealing with a fundamental lack of trust that's been built up over the years."
Yitzhak Benhorin, Attila Somfalvi and AFP contributed to the report
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