The Palestinians are plainly not going out of a good, true, sincere wish to achieve peace and make progress. They are going because they’re being forced to.
[translated from Hebrew]
Yaron Dekel: In eight days the prime minister is going to a summit in Washington with the Palestinian Authority chairman, attended also by the king of Jordan and the president of Egypt. You, Mr. Foreign Minister, said long ago that this will lead nowhere. I guess you haven’t changed your mind, ahead of this summit.
FM Liberman: As usual, I look only at the facts. The Palestinians are plainly not going out of a good, true, sincere wish to achieve peace and make progress. They are going because they’re being forced to. They are going forearmed with conditions and demands that will torpedo or prevent any real, serious negotiations. So I find it clear that, just as we’ve seen on countless festive occasions, from Madrid through Annapolis, this will just be another event. The approaches of the two sides are obviously so fundamentally different. It’s difficult to talk about a peace agreement within a year, and what have we accomplished here in 17 years since Oslo? Suddenly within a year we’ll reach some kind of settlement? So I am extremely cautious, and I think the lower we set our expectations, the healthier it will be.
Yaron Dekel: The Americans should also lower their expectations, Mr. Minister?
FM Liberman: I think everybody should. The Americans, the Europeans, everyone has to lower their expectations. Nobody suddenly discovered a magic formula. We are not now clearly embarking on a path that will lead us within a year to a permanent settlement, an end to the conflict, and the solution to all the complex issues such as refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, Jewish expansion and so forth. I don’t see any such magic solution, despite all the attempts to infect everyone else with the same optimism. I think it is quite in order to lower expectations and be realistic.
Yaron Dekel: As you mentioned, the Palestinians will immediately place a mine on the table, namely a call for a freeze on construction in Judea and Samaria. The prime minister spoke about this yesterday from where he is vacationing in the north. Let’s recall what the prime minister said about renewing construction after September 26th:
PM Benjamin Netanyahu: "This freeze is for the postponement period, no more. And at cabinet meetings we made it clear that at the end of the postponement period, construction will resume. It has been ten days so far, and counting."
Did the prime minister convince you, Mr. Liberman?
FM Liberman: I think that, first of all, concerning the Palestinians, whoever comes with the all-or-nothing approach will end up with nothing. And that should be made clear to them. With an attitude like theirs, you can’t get anywhere.
Yaron Dekel: I asked you about Netanyahu and you answer about the Palestinians?
FM Liberman: The cabinet decision is explicit. And I have no reason to doubt what the prime minister said. We made an unequivocal decision of ten months, and there’s no reason for us to continue freezing construction. This is not just about settlements, and I wish to emphasize this point: The Palestinians are also talking about Jerusalem.
Right now on the table are 1,000 housing units in Ramot, and another 600 in neighborhoods such as Gilo, East Talpiot, Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev. Does anyone expect us to continue freezing 1,600 housing units that have already gone through all the procedures, permits, and tenders for construction, contractors, and execution? This is way past the planning stages.
Yaron Dekel: And what do you think Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu should say if the American President – not Abu Mazen, not the Palestinians – but Secretary of State Clinton or President Barack Obama, tells the prime minister, "It’s starting now, this is serious, perhaps more than you think, more than Avigdor Liberman insinuated on ‘It’s All Talk’ on Kol Yisrael, and I’d like you, as a gesture of good will, to freeze building in Judea and Samaria for as long as possible." What do you think Mr. Netanyahu’s answer should be?
FM Liberman: The answer is quite obvious. We did make the gesture. For ten months we were waiting for the Palestinians to deign to come negotiate. They came during the last month. That’s their problem. And on the contrary, we expect the Palestinian side to cease incitement, stop naming streets and plazas after various [terrorist] “engineers.” Stop inciting and working against the State of Israel in all sorts of international forums or OECD, stop the boycotts and all the opposition to us, filing lawsuits in The Hague, and so on.
Yaron Dekel: In other words, what you’re saying is if Barack Obama, the President of the United States, makes the request, we should tell him, "Mr. President, with all due respect, we’ve already done that."
FM Liberman: We’ve made enough gestures and seen nothing in return. And I think it’s also in the Palestinians’ best interest. We shouldn’t have to pay for the pleasure of sitting at the table with the Palestinians, like we always have to pay. They should also have to pay. And first off, to get to the starting point, they should stop their rampant incitement against Jews and against Israel. And all their statements that they’ll never recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state are just pre-indicators of their true intention.
Yaron Dekel: But you know, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, that the suspicion in the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza is that construction will resume, but the one who is supposed to approve construction, as we all know, is Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He needs to sign it, and he won’t. Could it be that construction will officially resume but the person responsible for construction, Barak, will continue the freeze when the government announces resumed construction? Does that seem a likely scenario to you?
FM Liberman: First of all, let’s be precise. In Jerusalem the defense minister’s signature is not necessary.
Yaron Dekel: I’m talking about the settlement blocs.
FM Liberman: In Jerusalem there are 1,600 units primed for immediate construction. Secondly, in Judea and Samaria there are already 2,000 housing units that were frozen under the cabinet decision. They have already received all the permits and do not require the Defense Minister’s signature. These are some 2,000 housing units whose construction could commence immediately. Some of the construction is for single units seeking building alterations, various additions, from local committees which also do not require…
Yaron Dekel: I don’t want to go into the details of each building. I was asking in principle: Netanyahu and Liberman make the announcement, construction resumes, and Ehud Barak doesn’t sign. Plain and simple.
FM Liberman: In principle, from what I’ve heard, the Minister of Defense accepts the formula that it’s okay to build.
Yaron Dekel: Everywhere, or only in the blocs?
FM Liberman: In the settlement blocs, and I also don’t think you can punish people living outside the settlement blocs. Take for example a community like Tekoa, which was established during the Labor Party’s heyday, when they were still in power, before the upheaval of ’77. Thank God, there is a new kindergarten class there every year. Why would we punish those children and teachers who came and settled there when the Labor government convinced them it was a Zionist act and a challenge?
Yaron Dekel: Do I understand correctly, Minister Liberman, that you do not accept the formula now emerging out of Jerusalem, or Washington, of allowing construction but only in the settlement blocs? Outside the settlement blocs, the construction freeze will actually continue in the areas that Israel is negotiating over. Is that acceptable to you or not?
FM Liberman: I don’t wish to be contrary, create a provocation or rub anyone the wrong way. All I’m saying is that the formula that was always acceptable, also to the previous government, was natural expansion. I can’t accept a situation where today we punish thousands of loyal citizens who serve in the army, pay income tax, received completely legal permits, and moved there as a Zionist act. So we don’t need to create unnecessary confrontations but neither do we need to punish anyone, or cave in, because some sanity must be preserved.
Yaron Dekel: But your deputy, Danny Ayalon, spoke yesterday on Kol Yisrael’s Persian broadcast, although he spoke in English. He referred to your home in Nokdim and announced, on your behalf, that you are willing to vacate Nokdom. Here’s what Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said yesterday on Kol Yisrael in Persian:
Deputy Minister Danny Ayalon: "Mr. Liberman himself said that for real peace he is willing to give up his own home in Nokdim which is a Jewish community in Judea and Samaria. For real peace he is willing to give up his own home! And he’s not saying it only secretly. He also told it on record to the Washington Post and to Newsweek."
Are you willing to say this to Kol Yisrael as well, or only to the Washington Post and Newsweek?
FM Liberman: I think I said it in Hebrew, but with a Russian accent, before the elections. I said and emphasized it, that I said it before or after the elections. I said it more than once. I said if we really believe we are achieving a true peace agreement, including an end to the conflict, and the absence of future claims, and will truly be a Benelux in the Middle East, then I would certainly be willing to evacuate my home.