WASHINGTON – Yisrael Beitenu Chairman, Avigdor Lieberman, is adamant to take the edge off his hardliner image in the American press, hoping this may help him land the foreign affairs portfolio in the future government.
After voicing support for the establishment of a Palestinian state in an opinion piece published by 'Jewish Week,' Lieberman continued to employ decidedly soft language in weekend interviews to the 'Washington
Post' and 'Newsweek.'
Touching on the Iranian nuclear threat for example, Lieberman swaps his infamous stance in favor of "bombing Tehran" for a more moderate solution based on diplomatic and economic sanctions.
"A military operation - I think I don't even want to imagine the consequences of this step," he says.
Instead, Lieberman advocates more sanctions – "really tough and very strong political and economic sanctions, as in the case of North Korea and Libya." Iran is not just Israel's problem, he says, it's "a headache for all the free world."
Lieberman asserts that as foreign minister in a government lead by Prime Minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu, he would continue the peace process but not by "starting with a final agreement," but rather by going step by step. "You can't start with Jerusalem or the evacuation of the settlements. You must start with security and the economy," he says.
"You must strengthen the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is really a problem for the Palestinians and for Egypt more than Israel. It must be clear that the problem of our region and of Israel is Iran by proxy, because Hamas and Jihad are really Iran by proxy as is Hezbollah. Without Iranian support, they cannot exist."
'I would vacate my settlement'
He also lays out his divisive land-for-land peace proposal, citing the Cyprus model as an example. The plan would see Israel and the Palestinian Authority swapping West Bank territories populated by Jewish citizens for predominately Arab areas in Israel.
"Here is a picture of my settlement behind you, Nokdim, in the Judean Desert. I even agree to vacate my settlement if there really will be a two-state solution. What does the leader of the Israeli Arabs say? They're not interested in any Palestinian state. Even the Palestinians aren't interested in a Palestinian state."
Asked whether he thought the Palestinians want all of Israel's territory, Lieberman noted the failure of previous Israeli land offers. "They want one country from the Jordan River to the sea," he says. "Barak gave a very crazy proposal to go back to the 1967 borders. Arafat said no. Also, Sharon gave up all of the Gaza Strip. And at Annapolis, a left-wing government gave very strange and crazy proposals. Even so, the Palestinians didn't accept. Prime Minister Olmert tried to jump from the first stage to the final stage. It didn't work, it's impossible."
He is more resolute on the matter of ceding the Golan Heights in a future peace agreement with Syria. "I don't see why we must give up the Golan Heights. Damascus is the center of world terror. All these
organizations, Jihad and Hamas, their headquarters are in Damascus. Syria supports Hezbollah… Even President Bashar al-Assad says that even if he receives the Golan Heights, he will continue his ties with Iran. People don't want to see the truth."
Briefly discussing the current post-election political crisis in Israel, Lieberman says he supports a Likud-Kadima-Yisrael Beitenu coalition. "We have two results from these elections. The first result is that the right wing really won the elections. The second result is that Kadima is the biggest party. The best solution for our country is a combination of these two results."