Avigdor Lieberman seeks to bypass Mahmoud Abbas in Palestinian talks

Defence minister denies Israel attempting to interfere in internal Palestinian affairs

Israel’s defence minister Avigdor Lieberman wants to hold talks with West Bank Palestinian figures without  the approval of the  Palestinian Authority. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Israel’s defence minister Avigdor Lieberman wants to hold talks with West Bank Palestinian figures without the approval of the Palestinian Authority. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

 

In a clear attempt to bypass the Palestinian leadership, Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman wants to hold talks with West Bank Palestinian figures without mediation and without the approval of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.

Mr Lieberman, who was appointed defence minister in May, said Palestinian Authority (PA) officials spoke to all parts of Israeli society – ministers, Knesset members, mayors and academics – whereas Israel held talks only with PA officials or those approved by the PA.

“Abbas speaks with everyone in Israel and, therefore, the goal is to attain symmetry between Israel and the PA,” he said. “We have to eliminate the need for mediators when addressing those who truly seek to pursue coexistence. Abbas is an obstacle, and he refuses to reach a [peace] deal. I want to talk with those who do want a deal, to talk about social and economic issues. We have to live with each other, so we have to find a way to talk.”

Alternative leadership

Palestine Liberation Organisation

A senior aide to Mr Lieberman told Israel radio that contacts had already been established with some West Bank figures, without providing details.

PLO executive member Dr Ahmed Majdalani, who serves as an adviser to Mr Abbas, condemned Mr Lieberman’s initiative.

“This is a racist, colonialist approach that sees the Palestinian people as stupid and lacking self-respect,” he said. “As though they have no aspirations for independence and can be bought with economic perks.”

Mr Lieberman’s initiative can be seen as an attempt by Israel to put out feelers as it prepares for the post-Abbas era in the West Bank. However, Mr Lieberman denied that Israel was attempting to interfere in internal Palestinian affairs.

The plan may be meaningless if Hamas wins control of the West Bank in local elections scheduled for October.

Former defence minister and Knesset member Amir Peretz from the opposition Zionist Union warned there could be no replacement for dialogue between national leaders.

Militant activity

Mr Lieberman also unveiled a new “carrot-and-stick” policy, dividing the West Bank into red and yellow areas where militant activity is high and green areas which are relatively quiet.

“We will adopt a differential policy in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] – both in green areas. In red areas it is intended that the army will intensify punitive actions such as home demolitions, restricting freedom of movement and arrests.