Liberman: We should deal with refugee issue before interim peace accord

FM tells Kerry peace must be founded on security for Israel, economic stability for Palestinians; secretary heads to talks with Abbas

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (right) and US Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting in Jerusalem, January 3, 2014 (photo credit: AP)
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (right) and US Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting in Jerusalem, January 3, 2014 (photo credit: AP)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman stressed Friday that, although dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians was “important,” he was concerned that any preliminary accord would leave many vital issues unresolved.

The foreign minister suggested that issues such as the fate of Palestinian refugees be addressed sooner rather than later, before the signing of the interim “framework” agreement that US Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing.

During a meeting with Kerry in Jerusalem, Liberman cited the Palestinian refugees as an example of such an issue, and said nearly three million refugees would need to be integrated into the Palestinian state, a scenario that could lead to unrest.

“It is likely that, after an agreement is reached, some other countries in the region will want to transfer the Palestinian refugees who currently reside in their territory,” he said, according to Channel 2 News.

“That would mean that, to the 800,000 Palestinians who live in the Palestinian Authority today, about three million refugees will be added, and this may make the humanitarian situation there very difficult. This will bring frustration, violence and a security deterioration.” Liberman’s 800,000 estimate apparently applied only to the West Bank; many demographers put the figure there two or more times higher, and assess that there are also more than 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.)

Kerry met Liberman and other Israeli leaders on Friday, and then headed to Ramallah for talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas on what is his tenth visit to the region this year.

Israeli sources said Kerry had not formally presented a much-anticipated framework agreement, and was first trying to narrow gaps between the sides.

According to a statement from the Foreign Ministry, Liberman added that an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must be based on a “solid foundation of security” for Israel and a “stable economy” for the Palestinians.

Kerry landed in Israel on Thursday afternoon for another effort to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework agreement that will address the outlines of a final peace deal.

Kerry has said Israel and the Palestinians will have to face tough choices in the coming week. Speaking Thursday at a joint press conference — before the first of several planned meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — Kerry said leaders on both sides already knew what would be contained in a US-drafted framework agreement, but added that an agreement was not “mission impossible.”

Kerry and Netanyahu met a second time on Friday, in talks that were also attended by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading negotiations with the Palestinians, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

Netanyahu is reportedly ready to continue talks on the basis of the framework deal, which has not been made public, even if it references a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines — provided he is not required to sign it.

Kerry’s security proposals, which reportedly provide for the presence of IDF troops to secure the West Bank-Jordan border after a permanent deal is reached, have reportedly been rejected by Abbas. The sides also differ widely on possible land-swap arrangements, and are reportedly deadlocked on some core issues, including Jerusalem and the repatriation of refugees and their descendants.

Kerry’s arrival comes amid a row over reported plans by Netanyahu to authorize construction of 1,400 homes over the pre-1967 Green Line — 600 in Jerusalem and 800 in nearby West Bank settlements. Abbas has urged the US to block the plans and on Tuesday threatened to rally the UN against Israel’s settlements, which he termed a “cancer.”

Israeli officials decided to delay announcing the plans for new settlement construction while Kerry is visiting the region, saying it was inappropriate to make the announcement during the American diplomat’s stay.

Negotiators from both sides have held some 20 rounds of talks since the summer. Just four months remain until a US-set target date for a final agreement.

Yifa Yaakov and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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