Israel’s Lieberman Did Not Reject Two-State Goal

By Patrick Goodenough | April 3, 2009 | 6:49 AM EDT

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. (AP Photo)

( – Israel’s new foreign minister has caused a furor by repudiating the 2007 Annapolis agreement with the Palestinians, but much less attention has been given to the fact that, in the same inaugural address, he accepted an earlier deal that has as its goal an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Arab and Western media made much of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s remarks that Israel was not bound by the Annapolis agreement, using terms like “blunt,” “delirious” and “combative” to describe them and warning that the peace process was in jeopardy.
But in the same speech he said Israel was bound to the 2003 Mideast “roadmap” – marking a shift for the right-wing politician who, as transportation minister in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s cabinet at the time, voted against the plan.
The roadmap’s full title is, “A performance-based roadmap to a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” It contains a series of steps leading to the destination of “two states, Israel and sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.”
The roadmap envisaged that goal by 2004-5, but the process stalled amid mutual accusations of non-compliance. The Annapolis conference was President Bush’s attempt to breathe new life into the roadmap, by immediately launching talks on “all outstanding issues,” with the aim of concluding a final deal by the end of 2008.
Lieberman’s assertion that the new government considers itself bound to the roadmap came with a stipulation – it would “adhere to it to the letter, exactly as written.”
The proviso is key: the very first phase of the roadmap includes a Palestinian Authority (P.A.) obligation to dismantle terrorist infrastructure and reform its political institutions, and an Israeli commitment to freeze all settlement activity.
“We will proceed exactly according to the clauses,” Lieberman said, rejecting the idea of skipping parts along the way and jumping ahead to “the last clause – negotiations on a permanent settlement.”
The roadmap details were made public in April 2003 and two months later Bush visited the region to push the plan ahead at a summit with Sharon and P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
But the roadmap never got off the ground: One day after Bush left the region, terrorism resumed, and within one week, 24 Israelis had been killed in four attacks, including a suicide bombing of a bus in the center of Jerusalem.
Lieberman’s emphasis on the roadmap and step-by-step compliance signals a return to notion of “reciprocity” favored by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his previous term in office.
By contrast, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at Annapolis showed a willingness to negotiate on such sensitive “final status” issues as final borders and the future of Jerusalem before being satisfied that roadmap pledges had been met.
One of the reasons Lieberman’s comments caused a stir was the fact they were contained in an address in which he forewent standard diplomatic niceties, saying that constantly making concessions did not bring peace.
He also criticized by name two Arab countries that had severed relations with Israel – Mauritania and Qatar – and implicitly scolded Egypt’s leaders for never visiting Israel.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit responded by accusing Lieberman of insulting Egypt. The P.A. said the statements prove that Israel is not interested in peace, and Lieberman’s predecessor, Tzipi Livni, also criticized his comments.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood would not be drawn Thursday on whether the Obama administration was committed to the Annapolis process and specifically its approach of dealing immediately with final status issues.
He said that the administration was committed to a two-state solution, adding, “we’re trying to figure out the best way to get the parties to move in that direction.”
Lieberman is also under fire this week for saying in a newspaper interview that the government would not cede the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for a peace agreement, but instead favored “peace in return for peace.”
Holding onto the contested area has been long been Likud party policy. Netanyahu said while campaigning that “a Likud-led government will stay on the Golan Heights and keep them as a strategic asset.”
Israel captured the plateau during the 1967 Six Day War, before which it was used by the Syrians as a launching-pad for attacks on Israeli communities in the Hula and Galilee valleys below.
Unlike the West Bank and Gaza, the Golan Heights was annexed by Israel (in 1981). Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Israelis want Israel to retain them.
For 23 years prior to 1967 the area fell within the borders of the newly-independent Syria. Before that it was part of a French mandate and the Ottoman Empire.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow