Liberman repeats call for Abbas ouster, describes him as a ‘man of terrorism’

Foreign minister defends his position despite widespread condemnation. ‘There is no cabinet decision that contradicts what I say,’ he argues

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Flash90)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday described Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a “political terrorist” who is unable and unwilling to make peace with Israel, defending a controversial letter he wrote to world leaders this week in which he called for new elections to oust Abbas.

“Abu Mazen is a man of terrorism,” Liberman told Israel Radio, using Abbas’ nom de guerre. “He engages in political terrorism and I say clearly: the political terrorism that Abu Mazen engages in is more dangerous for us than the armed terrorism that [Hamas’s Gaza Prime Minister Ismail] Haniyeh and all the other Hamas leaders are involved with. It’s much more dangerous, because everything Abbas does is legitimized by Israel.”

On Monday, Liberman sent a lengthy letter to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in which he attacked the Palestinian leadership and called for new elections in the Palestinian territories.

“Due to Abbas’s weak standing, and his policy of not renewing negotiations, which is an obstacle to peace, the time has come to consider a creative solution, to think ‘outside the box,’ in order to strengthen the Palestinian leadership,” he wrote. “General elections in the PA should be held, and a new, legitimate, hopefully realistic Palestinian leadership should be elected.”

‘It’s the Palestinians’ right to choose their leadership. If it will be a realistic leadership, we will engage with them in negotiations. If it’s Hamas, we know we’re dealing with an enemy’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from Liberman’s letter, saying it did not reflect the government’s position on the question. Israel does not interfere in the internal affairs of its neighbors, an official in Prime Minister’s Office said, and Netanyahu did not endorse the message it conveyed.

The Palestinian Authority also condemned Liberman’s statement.

Liberman seemed unperturbed Thursday. “In every act of negotiations, there are two basic questions: Can the other side deliver the goods, and what are its intentions?” he said. “We are negotiating with Abu Mazen and we expect him to honor his commitments. The first question is whether he is able to do so — a man who doesn’t control the Gaza Strip and for years has been incapable of arranging elections in the PA? Would he be able to honor his commitments toward us, if he ever made any?”

Asked if he doesn’t fear that new Palestinian presidential elections will bring Hamas to power, as happened in parliamentary elections of January 2006, Liberman said that he did not seek to interfere in internal Palestinian issues. “It’s the Palestinians’ right to choose their leadership. If it will be a realistic leadership, we will engage with them in negotiations. If Hamas is elected, we know that we’re dealing with an enemy,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a peace conference in Washington, D.C. on September 2, 2010. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas at a peace conference in Washington in 2010. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

Israel needs to face reality, however unpleasant it may be, the foreign minister and deputy prime minister said. Trying to maintain the current calm at any cost would hurt Israel in the long run, therefore Jerusalem should establish a clear, principled policy toward the Palestinians, he said. “Today we are trying to be on both sides of the fence so we can feel we’re part of the game. Abbas is a partner but also an enemy — it doesn’t work like that. In the big picture, we stand to lose from this. We can’t just sit around and do nothing. We need to initiate. We try only to maintain the status quo, and this works against us.”

Liberman further said that the fact that he and the prime minister have different views is the fault of the current government system, which is based on a coalition of different parties. He is not obligated to Netanyahu’s position, only to coalition agreements and cabinet decisions, he said. “There is no government position that contradicts what I said, that says we are committed only to Abu Mazen.”

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