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Avigdor Lieberman: Peacenik?

Hard-right Foreign Minister says Kerry’s peace deal is best Israel will get

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Yesterday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman addressed the country’s diplomatic corps and did something unexpected: he endorsed the current peace efforts being spearheaded by the United States. “I would like to express genuine appreciation for the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, who is giving his all in an attempt to end the conflict between us and the Palestinians,” Lieberman said. “We need to understand that any alternative proposal that we’d get from the international community would be far less favorable to us.”

This enthusiasm for the peace process from the leader of the hard-right Yisrael Beiteinu faction might come as a surprise to many, but Lieberman has long supported a controversial variant of the two-state solution–whose stipulations he made clear in his subsequent remarks. “I will not agree to any deal which contains the [Palestinian] right of return, even for one person,” he said. “Because if you leave the possibility open, even in theory, or narrowly, or unilaterally, you are inviting all the [international] pressure there. And the pressure will be very heavy. At the moment that the population in the West Bank rises from 2.4 to 5.4 million, the pressure on us will rise [to accept more Palestinian refugees], and therefore we cannot acquiesce to the right of return, even on a theoretical plane.”

Lieberman also made a point of his plan to trade Arab areas within Israel for Jewish areas in the West Bank, in the context of a peace agreement, something he has advocated since 2004.  Acknowledging that the proposal is not considered “politically correct,” Lieberman nonetheless defended it. “It is important to emphasize that we are not speaking of a transfer,” he said. “This is not like the [Gaza] disengagement, where we took 21 settlements, took people and expelled them from their homes, sent them to another place, and confiscated their property. In the case of an exchange of territories and populations, no one will be chased from their homes, and no one will be separated from their property. Everyone will stay in the same place and homes, only the border will be moved.”

As Kerry’s mediation efforts approach their climax, the question then becomes: Has Lieberman turned over a new leaf? Will he compromise at all on his stipulations? Or do his conditions undermine his ostensibly enthusiastic commitment to Kerry’s peace initiative? Watch Lieberman’s remarks below with English subtitles (click “CC” if not enabled) and decide for yourself:

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Avigdor Lieberman: Peacenik?

Hard-right Foreign Minister says Kerry’s peace deal is best Israel will get

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