FM Liberman talks about building in the settlements, Arab obstacles and Israeli willingness.
(Translated from Russian)
Interviewer: Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, good afternoon. Only last week George Mitchell, the American senator and special envoy to the Middle East for the Obama administration, postponed his visit to Israel in protest at Israel’s refusal to stop building in the Jewish settlements and possibly even in protest over the publication that is drawing the attention of the international community. What was the reason for George Mitchell’s visit to Jerusalem and what was at issue in yesterday’s meeting?
FM Liberman: First, Mr. Mitchell came to prepare the summit meeting planned for next week’s UN Assembly, with the participation of US President Barak Obama. I think Mitchell and all other [politicians] realize that Israel does not pose a problem. From day one of this government, we’ve declared that we are ready to meet with the Palestinians directly, as well as with the Palestinians and the Americans (a three-party meeting). By now, only the Palestinians are dictating terms and torpedoing the commencement of the political process.
It’s absolutely not legitimate to precondition the three-party meeting or the beginning of a political process on freezing the settlements, and we will never accept this requirement. Moreover, Abu Mazen never put forward this claim, and the settlement building continued. That’s why this new claim will not be accepted by us under any circumstances. Back in the Arafat era, when he was Palestinian prime minister, and during the period of his presidency and his negotiations with Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert, the settlement construction was going on. I’ve made it clear to Senator Mitchell that, in any case, if the agreement is not reached by September 23, we are ready to meet.
As to the settlements, our objective is not to freeze them, but rather to assure normal existence, normal life in the Jewish settlements of Judea and Samaria.
Interviewer: But still, in this specific situation everything depends on building in the Jewish settlements over the Green Line. When Binyamin Netanyahu claimed yesterday in Cairo that he was ready to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, even tomorrow, and that Israel would not create obstacles for the peace negotiations, he was rebuked again for the settlement construction.
FM Liberman: You know, they will always find a reason. Besides, each time, the Arabs have new claims. From 1993 when the Oslo agreements were signed until the moment when this government was formed, the precondition of freezing construction in the settlements was never put forward. On the one hand, Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad were the ones who pushed us toward the Gaza operation. Alternatively, when we were about to stop it, they tried to convince us to fight to the finish and put an end to the Hamas rule in Gaza. However, after the operation was over, they hastened to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to file lawsuits against us for alleged war crimes. This kind of double game is absolutely unacceptable to us.
Interviewer: I wonder whether you will find understanding for these issues on the part of the American administration, represented by Mr. Mitchell, who is here with a special US presidential mission.
FM Liberman: We are prepared to be flexible, we are prepared to meet their wishes, we are prepared to negotiate. We are not prepared to neglect our own interests, to nullify everything we spoke about in our election campaign, or to accept ultimatums. We are not prepared to accept diktats.
Interviewer: In other words, Netanyahu’s government must be flexible, as you say. I would call it skating on thin ice and speaking about a short-term freeze.
FM Liberman: We should be absolutely transparent and by no means allow somebody to claim that we’ve spoken a word of untruth and tried to twist someone around our little finger. We are prepared to sign the memorandum, but the limited construction will still continue. Maybe to a lesser extent than we would like, but we are not able to freeze life. Today, we cannot have a stranglehold on people whom all Israeli governments have sent to fulfill a certain mission. Nobody can expect this from us. That’s why in this transition period we want to give a chance both to the new American administration and to the Palestinian Authority. During this trial period we are prepared to keep to the necessary minimum. During the transition period it will do. But it’s absolutely impossible to speak about a complete freeze in which no school, no synagogue and no house can be built.