Steve Weizman, AFP
Last updated: 9 January, 2012

Lieberman: Palestinians focused on UN, not talks

The Palestinians have no interest in restarting peace talks with Israel and are just biding their time before returning to the UN, Israel’s ultra-nationalist foreign minister said Monday.

Avigdor Lieberman’s remarks were made just hours before Israeli and Palestinian negotiators convened in Amman for their second exploratory meeting in a week, aimed at finding a way to get back to the talks after a hiatus of more than 15 months.

“From their point of view, they have been dragged against their will into the negotiations in Jordan,” Lieberman told MPs at the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and defence.

“It is their intention to carry on with talks in Jordan until January 26, and immediately afterward to renew their offensive at the UN to achieve recognition,” the committee spokesman quoted him as saying of the Palestinian attempt to secure full state membership at the United Nations, which Israel fiercely opposes.

The diplomatic Quartet of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia has called on Israel and the Palestinians to present comprehensive proposals on borders and security before January 26, with an eye to resuming direct talks shortly afterwards.

“Anyone talking about progress in talks with the Palestinians has no idea what he’s talking about,” Lieberman said.

The Islamist Hamas movement which has controlled the Gaza Strip since ousting president Mahmud Abbas’s forces in 2007 and had been inching towards reconciliation deal with the Palestinian leadership, blasted the latest talks.

“The Palestinian Authority’s insistence on talks with the enemy, despite a national consensus on rejecting them, would be the greatest danger to the Palestinian cause and a serious blow to reconciliation efforts,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said in a statement.

Accusing the authority of “bowing down to the United States and Israel,” Hamas urged other Palestinian factions to “reject these negotiations and make sure they fail.”

Talks between the Israelis and Palestinians broke down in September 2010 when an Israeli freeze on new West Bank settlement construction expired and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to renew it.

The Palestinians say they will not negotiate while Israel builds settlements and without a clear framework for negotiations. Israel says it wants talks without preconditions.

Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said his side’s policy was unchanged.

“All these moves are a preventative tactic in order to keep the ball in the Israeli court,” he told Voice of Palestine radio on Monday.

“The Palestinian stance has not changed in terms of not returning to negotiations unless Israel halts settlement activities.”

Netanyahu’s rightwing coalition government leans heavily on settlers and their supporters, which Shaath said meant there was little chance of a breakthrough in talks under the present conditions.

“One cannot pin hopes for a new launch of negotiations under the current Israeli government” which was “dominated” by settler representatives, he said.

Lieberman, himself a settler, also repeated his controversial call for any peace agreement to include a plan to integrate Arabs with Israeli citizenship into a future Palestinian state.

He wants to see Israel’s 1.3 million-strong Arab population and Arab-majority Israeli towns absorbed by a Palestinian state with Israel keeping its settlements in the West Bank in exchange.

“Any future agreement with the Palestinians must include the issue of the Israeli Arabs according to a formula of exchange of territories and populations,” told reporters after the committee meeting.

“Any other arrangement would be collective suicide.”