We are ready for any negotiations – either direct or through mediators. But we believe that direct negotiations are the only real alternative for reaching an agreement.
(Translated from Russian)
Host: Judging by the latest statements of Prime Minister Erdogan, King Abdullah II of Jordan and others, can we say that our international isolation is growing?
FM Liberman: The pressure is growing. Because pressure always grows, whenever they feel our weakness. This is like pressure growing in the bottle when the cork is loosened. This also applies to us. Over the last year, we have made many concessions – actually acts of good will – to create a more favorable atmosphere. On our part, this was the speech by the Prime Minister at Bar Ilan University, a major reduction in the number of roadblocks, a freeze on construction in West Bank settlements, and the Fatah convention held in Bethlehem. On the other hand, the Palestinian authorities are only intensifying their pressure by creating a designated anti-Israel boycott fund in the West Bank, organizing various anti-Israeli actions in the Human Rights Council in Geneva and in the United Nations, and so on. So we only feel growing pressure instead of any positive signs from the world community, and that’s all because of our weakness. That’s why we have to make it clear: "No more acts of good will." It’s time for the Palestinians to perform acts of good will.
This also applies to Turkey. The attacks by their Prime Minister did not start today. We all remember his ill-mannered attitude towards President Peres at the Davos Conference [Jan 2009], the Turkish movie showing Israeli soldiers killing Palestinian children in Gaza, etc. We have absolutely no intention of creating additional confrontations or conflicts with Turkey. But we must say to Mr. Erdogan: "If you want to make a name in the Islamic world or to create a new status, this shouldn’t be done at our expense." We saw no protests from Mr. Erdogan when hundreds and thousands of Muslims were killed in explosions in Pakistan or Iraq over the last few days. Before lecturing us, he should solve his own problems with the Kurds, etc.
Host: Mr. Liberman, in a couple of days, Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to Washington to meet President Obama who is waiting for his response to the 11 issues that our Prime Minister received at their previous meeting. Which should be our answers, at least from your point of view?
FM Liberman: Again, I believe that we have to make our position crystal clear. We cannot agree to freeze construction in Jerusalem, either west or east. In the context of our sovereignty, this simply means a waiver of independence. There is no other country in the world which would stop construction in its own capital. History has seen many mutual claims, like Nicosia which is now divided between southern and northern Cyprus (the Greek and the Turkish). Once, it was Berlin. Nobody has ever prohibited an independent state from building in its own capital. Therefore this is an unprecedented requirement which is totally unacceptable to us.
Host: But the problem is that the head of the US government is not ready to accept this.
FM Liberman: Sometimes we have to say "no" even to our close friends. We gave no promises to anyone. But the ability to withstand outside pressure is a must for any government or state leader.
Host: But such issues of the US requirements as …
FM Liberman: I don’t know of any such issues. We have heard a lot about these issues lately – eleven, twelve, eight, nine. Nobody has ever seen them. We have to explain our concept of settlement in this conflict. We are committed to direct negotiations without any prerequisites. This is the only option for us. We have done our best. Currently, the Palestinian economy is growing and prospering for the first time in many years, with economic growth of over 8% in 2009. This is all happening because of our cooperation with Tony Blair and our willingness to solve the problems, and not to create them. Whenever our opponents construe our acts of good will as a weakness, than we have to say: "That’s it. Now it’s your turn."
Host: So you are saying that Israel will insist on direct negotiations as the only option. Does it mean that we actually refuse the so-called reconciliation talks that the US has been trying to arrange?
FM Liberman: We are ready for any negotiations – either direct or through mediators. But still, we believe that direct negotiations are the only real alternative for reaching an agreement. The refusal of direct negotiations would be indicative of the actual intentions of our counterparts. And again, why should we pay an additional price for the pleasure of negotiating with the Palestinians through a mediator? They’re conditioning their willingness to talk through the Americans on a lot of requirements. I’m not ready to pay for the pleasure of talking with them.
Host: And the last question. What do you think about the latest statements of Salam Fayyad, who is actually threatening to unilaterally declare the Palestinian state?
FM Liberman: You know, a unilateral announcement would release us of all of our obligations. Unfortunately, lots of agreements and obligations have emerged since the Oslo accords, and we [the current government] abide by them all, though we were not responsible for the Oslo accords. A unilateral decision by the Palestinian authorities to announce their independence would release us from all of our obligations. Then, we can respond by unilateral decisions of our own, such as extending our sovereignty over settlement blocs in the West Bank, construction in the A1 zone, and so forth.
Host: Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, thank you for the interview.