In the wake of Obama’s appearance, the Israeli foreign minister’s speech to the UN this week drew condemnations.
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Adding that “this is not a sufficient condition [but] it is nevertheless a necessary one,” Lieberman was again spot-on.
He then came to some remarks that indeed diverge from Netanyahu’s — recently — stated positions. Referring to the conflict’s underlying “emotional problems” such as the “utter lack of confidence between the sides,” Lieberman said:
[W]e should focus on coming up with a long-term intermediate agreement, something that could take a few decades. We need to raise an entire new generation that will have mutual trust and will not be influenced by incitement and extremist messages.
As is true everywhere, where there are two nations, two religions and two languages with competing claims to the same land, there is friction and conflict. Countless examples…confirm this, whether in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Africa, the Far East or the Middle East. Where effective separation has been achieved, conflict has either been avoided, or has been dramatically reduced or resolved. Consider the cases of the former Yugoslav republics, the split-up of Czechoslovakia and the independence of East Timor….
Thus, the guiding principle for a final status agreement must not be land-for-peace but rather, exchange of populated territory. Let me be very clear: I am not speaking about moving populations, but rather about moving borders to better reflect demographic realities. …This is not an extraordinary insight [nor] a controversial political policy. It is an empirical truth.
Again, this is reasonable thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both well grounded and out-of-the-box. It’s inconsistent with what Netanyahu has lately been saying in two regards: the prime minister’s declared optimism that an agreement with the Palestinians can be reached within a year; and his seeming acceptance of the dominant land-for-peace paradigm now considered (wrongly) to be based on the 1967 borders.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu’s reaction to his subordinate’s talk was mild. His office stated that Lieberman’s address was not coordinated with him, and that “the prime minister is the one who is heading the negotiations on behalf of the State of Israel. Issues related to the peace process will be discussed and decided on at the negotiation table, not anywhere else.”
It was a distancing but not a repudiation, and the question is why.
One thing to point out is that Lieberman is not from Netanyahu’s Likud Party but, instead, the leader of his own Yisrael Beiteinu faction. As such, in Israel’s parliamentary system, Lieberman’s independence of Netanyahu could be seen as less jarring. This is, however, a nicety that may not be appreciated abroad.
Also to be mentioned is Netanyahu’s wish to avoid rocking the boat of his so-far stable coalition. So is the need to project that he’s in charge, hence not react too sharply to Lieberman’s seeming defiance.
But there may be another factor at play as well.
Few observers believe Netanyahu is actually a convert to Pollyannaish views of Israel’s conflict with its environment. More likely, his approach to the Palestinian issue is aimed at managing the relentless pressure from a U.S. president for whom it’s an obsession, and who in his own recent UN speech devoted ten paragraphs to it compared to two paragraphs for international terror and two for the Iranian threat.
It could well be that for Netanyahu, too, Lieberman’s words were a breath of fresh air. Someone needs to tell the truth.
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