Liberman steps up offensive against Abbas, calls for ultimatum on PA chief

Liberman steps up offensive against Abbas, calls for ultimatum on PA chief

Foreign minister says that if Palestinian president does not abandon bid for UN membership and return to talks, he should no longer be seen as a partner

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Gaby Farkas)
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Gaby Farkas)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman continued his offensive against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over the weekend, saying that Israel must discard him as a viable peace partner if he does not return to the negotiating table.

In an interview published by Haaretz on Sunday, Liberman said that Israel must send the clear message to Abbas that “if you don’t return to the negotiating table, and if you continue your UN move, then from our perspective, you will no longer be a partner, and we won’t talk to you.”

The interview was the latest in a series of attacks by Liberman on Abbas. The moves have drawn sharp condemnation in the Palestinian Authority, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has distanced himself from the statements.

Liberman told Haaretz that Abbas is “waging diplomatic terror against us ­ a campaign of delegitimization against Israel ­by encouraging boycotts, overseas lawsuits and incitement.”

Lieberman said that by the time the American elections have passed, Israel must “must make Abu Mazen illegitimate in the eyes of the world,” referring to the Palestinian leader’s nom de guerre.

Last week, Liberman sent a letter to counterparts from the Middle East Quartet, calling for new elections in the Palestinian Authority to replace Abbas. The Middle East Quarter is comprised of 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.

On Thursday, he repeated the call to oust the Palestinian president, referring to him as a  “political terrorist” who is unable and unwilling to make peace with Israel.

“Abu Mazen is a man of terrorism,” Liberman told Israel Radio. “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.”

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.

In the interview with Haaretz, Liberman said that the renewed campaign by Abbas to push for UN recognition was behind the timing of his letter to the Middle East Quartet. Abbas is expected to make a bid for UN recognition of a Palestinian state in November, a move that will be opposed by Israel and likely the US too.

In 2011 the US and Israel blocked a move by Abbas for recognition and recent reports say that Israel and the US are trying to prevent another attempt this year.

Liberman said his recent statements should not be construed as interfering in internal Palestinian politics, but rather are meant to bring attention to the fact that Abbas’s term of presidency technically ended years ago. Abbas’s mandate was to expire in January 2009, but he extended his own term by one year at that time, and is still serving as president.

Abbas has refused to return to the negotiating table without a freeze on construction in the settlements. Israel has called for talks without preconditions.

The two sides have not held high-level talks since fall 2010, at the tail end of a 10-month moratorium on settlement building.

Raphael Ahren and Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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