Israel wants a deal with the Palestinians, but not at the cost of its security, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday morning.
“There are those who say, ‘Don’t give up any land.’ There are those who say, ‘A deal with the Palestinians at any price.’ I say yes to a deal with the Palestinians, but not at any price. We can’t be suckers any longer,” Liberman said.
“We’ve already had a deal with more holes than Swiss cheese,” the foreign minister added, a likely reference to the 1993 Oslo Accords, which failed to produce a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Liberman’s comments, which followed on his remarks Friday praising US Secretary of State John Kerry as a “friend of Israel,” drew fire on Sunday from the more hawkish Jewish Home party.
“Liberman is to the left of Livni. He supports dividing the land of Israel and placing the border next to Route 6,” unnamed Jewish Home sources said, according to Army Radio. “What’s important is that he’s enjoying the praise of the Americans,” they added sarcastically. “We will continue to fight for Israel’s security and will not seek these compliments. Our children’s future is more important to us than compliments.”
In a laconic message, Jewish Home leader Economy Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on Facebook (Hebrew link) Sunday morning that “our children’s future is more important than our friends’ compliments.”
In a separate Sunday interview with Army Radio, Liberman denied that his statements last week in support of Kerry and of the current round of peace negotiations were a significant change in his position.
“Liberman is the same Liberman. You should deal with facts, not imagery or preconceptions,” he said in response to a question about his views. “I don’t think I’m being moderate or accommodating. I’m being realistic and pragmatic, as I am on every issue. There is nothing new here.”
There are “differences” between the government’s position and that of Kerry, the foreign minister added, but that wasn’t enough to justify calling the secretary an anti-Semite or a hater of Israel. With Kerry, Lieberman said, “there are natural differences, but one cannot because of disagreements call someone an anti-Semite or hater of Israel.”
Kerry has been the subject of criticism from the Israeli right, including cabinet ministers, in the wake of a speech the American diplomat made earlier this month at the Munich Security Conference, where he warned that Israel faces an “increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things.” He also said Israel’s current prosperity and security were “illusory.”
On Friday, Liberman called Kerry “a true friend” of Israel, and expressed support for his efforts to broker peace in the region.
“I want to make something clear,” Liberman told a trade conference at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv: “Kerry is a true friend of Israel. What’s the point of turning friends into enemies?”
“John Kerry is leading the process correctly,” he continued. “We are now creating principles with the Americans in order to negotiate directly with the Palestinians, based on them.”
Liberman also denounced Bennett’s attacks on Kerry. “We don’t agree with Kerry on everything. This, too, is nothing new. Kerry is not a Gush Emunim [settlement] activist and he has the right to a different opinion from our bellicose friend Naftali Bennett.”
Bennett, Housing Minister Uri Ariel, Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan and other right-wing leaders leveled a series of accusations against Kerry, including that he was anti-Israel and that his warnings of boycotts effectively empowered the boycott campaign.
Others, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, insisted Kerry had defended Israel and that any disagreement with him must be substantive rather than personal, although Netanyahu also declared he would not be swayed by boycott threats.
The accusations against Kerry have included claims he was driven by anti-Semitism. During an interview last week on Israel Radio, MK Moti Yogev (Jewish Home party) said that “the prime minister [Netanyahu] is maneuvering under the obsessive and unprofessional pressures that might also bear an undertone of anti-Semitism on Kerry’s part.”
Yogev later wrote to Dan Shapiro, US ambassador to Israel, saying he was retracting the charge of anti-Semitism, but maintained his opposition to Kerry as a fair broker.
Last Monday, National Security Advisor Susan Rice fired off a series of tweets in defense of the secretary, saying that “personal attacks in Israel directed at Sen. Kerry [are] totally unfounded and unacceptable.” She wrote that “John Kerry’s record of support for Israel’s security and prosperity [is] rock solid.” She also said the US government “has been clear and consistent that we reject efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel.”
Kerry himself said Wednesday he would not be intimidated by criticism of his role.
Lazar Berman and Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report.