We will make every effort to start the political process without conceding any of our vital interests.
Razi Barka’i: Good morning to Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. You met with Hillary Clinton yesterday before she appeared at a press conference and said that the proposal made to her by the government of Israel regarding the settlements was unprecedented. Do you agree?
FM Liberman: I agree with the fact that we will make every effort to start the political process without conceding any of our vital interests. That is exactly what we told the Palestinians, Hillary Clinton and the Europeans.
Barka’i: Yes, but the term "vital interests" is a flexible one, and it surprises me that you do not consider the settlements of vital interest.
FM Liberman: I say that it is a vital interest, so we have not made any concession, and I’ve also said that on the air with you, I believe. At present we do not want to change the demographic balance in Judea and Samaria, but we must enable the residents to have a normal lifestyle there – as a right, not as a favor.
Barka’i: Let’s face it, we’re all trying to gain time – us, the Americans and the Palestinians. Nothing will happen before January because just before an election no one wants to come out looking foolish. Abu Mazen will not soften his positions any more than he has already done, right?
FM Liberman: Actually, none of them are trying to gain time. To the contrary. From the first day that we met, we said that we are prepared to enter direct negotiations without preconditions. We made no stipulations about any freeze, or freezing construction in the eastern part of the city. Incidentally, with regard to the Palestinians, I don’t ever remember the government of Abu Mazen or previous Palestinian administrations making stipulations for conducting negotiations, either vis-à-vis the Olmert administration, the Sharon administration or the Barak administration. To the contrary. A political process was conducted while the building in Judea and Samaria continued. So this new stipulation tells us about the intentions of the Palestinians.
Barka’i: The question, Mr. Liberman, is whether we really and truly want to embark on a peace process. After all, you yourself, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense really think that Abu Mazen is not capable of delivering the goods, and even if he does, it will only be on the West Bank and not in the Gaza Strip.
FM Liberman: Look, I’m on the air now. You don’t have to interpret what I say, and I usually express myself very clearly. I am saying to you on the air right now, that I am in favor of a political process. It must take place along with all the effort to improve the situation on the ground. Are you asking me whether, in the coming years, we can achieve a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians which will signify the end of the dispute, the absence of mutual claims in the future, the cessation of all kinds of incitement, both in the schools and in the international arena by the Palestinians? Can it be achieved in the next few years? No.
Barka’i: So what happens in the meantime? An interim agreement?
FM Liberman: I think that a long-term interim agreement is the clearest and best thing that we can achieve.
Barka’i: During which there is a state…
FM Liberman: Excuse me, but I’ll say again, it is no coincidence that over the previous 16 years we had prime ministers who really and truly did everything to achieve peace. Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert all made far-reaching proposals, in effect going back to the 1960 borders and dividing Jerusalem, and twice the Palestinians turned it down.
Barka’i: In the framework of this interim agreement, will there be a Palestinian state?
FM Liberman: An interim agreement says very clearly that there is no Palestinian state.
Barka’i: So what agreement is there?
FM Liberman: The Palestinian state is the end of the process and not the middle of the process. On the Roadmap, there were also three stages with 40 items, and only at the end does it mention the establishment of a Palestinian state. Can we do that now? After all, Abu Mazen claims that he represents the entire Palestinian people. He, himself, can’t even enter Gaza. We would pay the full price for half the goods.
Barka’i: So maybe you should focus all your energies on the northern border and put everything into renewing negotiations with the Syrians, through our Turkish friends or through other friends?
FM Liberman: I’ll tell you once again, if we indicate that it is only in our interests, we won’t achieve anything. I think that both the Palestinians and the Syrians certainly have a far greater interest than we do in reaching a peace agreement.
Barka’i: Last week, Assad said unequivocally, "My people want peace tomorrow morning. I am prepared to renew negotiations…"
FM Liberman: We have also said a dozen times that we are prepared to meet with Assad tomorrow or the day after that.
FM Liberman: Face-to-face.
Barka’i: But not through an intermediary.
FM Liberman: Not through an intermediary and certainly not through threats, and not while they are talking peace yet acting in the most hostile manner possible. Syria is continuing to smuggle weapons to Hizbullah, it is continuing to strengthen Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, which are located in Damascus, and it is continuing its incitement against us in every international forum.
Barka’i: Well, those are the cards they have to play. Avigdor Liberman, if we’re talking about the absence of preconditions, before the negotiations you can’t come to them with preconditions either. Sit down with them and demand at the beginning that they stop doing it.
FM Liberman: I’m telling you here on the air, and I’ve said this dozens of times – we’re willing to sit down with the Syrians today, this afternoon or this evening, face to face, and start talking. He is again the one making stipulations. Assad wants to end his international isolation, but each time he makes additional conditions. He should say at the start that he’s prepared to give up the Golan Heights – without that there’s no point in negotiating – and in the meantime he continues to get closer to Hugo Chavez, to the Iranians and to North Korea.
Barka’i: Okay. Is it true that you planned to shoot a nuclear missile at Gaza, as the Prime Minister of Turkey said? What did he base that on? Is there something that you said?
FM Liberman: What’s happening in Turkey and what needs to be understood is not connected to the State of Israel. We always blame ourselves for all the problems in the world. There has been a dramatic turnaround from the secular Turkey of Ataturk to the Muslim Turkey of Erdogan, and that is reflected not only in our arena. We think that everything revolves only around us. Two weeks ago I saw the latest report of the European Union on the subject of Turkey. The report is really grave by any standards, on the subjects of freedom of expression, suppression of journalists and the critical press, the attitude of the Turks to negotiations in Cyprus – and a thousand and one other parameters… Recent statements that we have heard from Turkey, as well as that warm embrace of the Iranians in Tehran, with Ahmadinejad – with those kind of things, we cannot just go back to business as usual.