The head of Israel’s ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, ex-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, lashed out Friday against Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, saying new peace talks would be possible only if he leaves office.
“Only after his disappearance from the leadership of the Palestinian Authority will it be possible to renew the diplomatic process,” Haaretz daily’s website quoted him as saying in a statement.
Lieberman’s comments came a day after Abbas told the paper he would disband his West Bank administration if there was no Israeli movement towards renewing peace talks after the general election on January 22.
Lieberman resigned on December 13 after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said he was charging him with fraud and breach of trust. A revised charge sheet citing new witnesses and fresh evidence is set to be filed on Sunday.
It is unclear when the case is likely to go to trial, but until then Lieberman will not have a ministerial role and his party’s electoral alliance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud is slipping in the polls, despite Netanyahu still seen as commanding an overall majority in the next parliament.
In Thursday’s Haaretz interview, Abbas said that he expected Netanyahu to lead his next coalition into talks with the Palestinians and freeze settlement construction while they were in progress.
“If there is no progress even after the election I will take the phone and call Netanyahu,” he said.
“I’ll tell him… Sit in the chair here instead of me, take the keys, and you will be responsible for the Palestinian Authority.”
“Once the new government in Israel is in place, Netanyahu will have to decide — yes or no,” Abbas said.
Talks between the two sides have been on hold since September 2010, with the Palestinians insisting on a settlement freeze before returning to the negotiating table and the Israelis insisting on no preconditions.
Following last month’s historic United Nations vote giving the Palestinians upgraded status in the world body, Israel announced a new spate of settlement building in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.