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January 6, 2010

Interim Forever!

By Uri Avnery

I HAVE three answers,” the Jew told the rabbi when his neighbor sued him
for not returning a borrowed jar.

“First, I never borrowed a jar from him. Second, the jar was broken. Third, I
returned it to him long ago.”

Avigdor Lieberman’s Peace Plan shows a similar kind of logic.

PEACE PLAN? Lieberman? Oh yes. Contrary to everything you thought,
Lieberman wants peace, indeed is yearning for peace. So much so that he
has spent days and nights working out an entire Peace Plan of his own.

This week he summoned Israel’s 170 senior diplomats, the elite of our
foreign service, and revealed his thoughts to them. The opinions of the
Foreign Minister are of course binding for the diplomats, and from now on
they constitute the guiding line for all Israeli diplomatic missions around the

But first of all, Lieberman settled accounts with the Turks. They demand an
apology from Israel for the killing of nine Turkish activists on the ship that
tried to break the Gaza blockade. The Turks also demand that Israel pay
indemnities to the bereaved families. They insist that the Israeli soldiers
unlawfully attacked the Turkish ship on the high seas and shot the unarmed

“There is no limit to their Chutzpah,” Lieberman thundered. Everybody
knows that the Turks themselves attacked our soldiers who abseiled
innocently from their helicopters and were compelled to shoot in self-

Lieberman knew, of course, that Netanyahu was negotiating with the Turks in
order to put an end to the conflict. The Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, and
the army chiefs were putting pressure on him to reestablish good relations
with Ankara, and especially with the Turkish military – relations, they believe,
that are of major strategic value for Israel. The Turks on their part, know that
Israel controls the US Congress and therefore also believe that a
compromise would be good for them. Netanyahu’s emissary was looking for a
formula that would be short of an apology and yet satisfy Ankara.

Lieberman has put an end to this appeasement. Netanyahu cannot afford to
look like a wimp next to his macho Foreign Minister. So he declared that he
would never ever apologize.

For Lieberman, that was a major victory. Netanyahu capitulated. Barak was
humiliated. The Turks remain enemies. What more can a Foreign Minister
hope for?

BUT LIEBERMAN does not rest on his laurels for a moment. At the same
meeting with the select 170 he laid out his great plan, Plan B.

Just a moment. If this is Plan B, what is Plan A?

Netanyahu, of course, has no peace plan. His declared position is that the
Palestinians must return to direct negotiations without prior conditions, but
only after they officially recognize Israel as “the state of the Jewish people”
(or, in another version, as a “Jewish and democratic state”.) It is clear that
the Palestinians cannot be expected to agree to any such prior condition.

So what “Plan A” does Lieberman allude to? Not to Netanyahu’s, but to
Barack Obama’s. The American president speaks about two states with the
border between them based on the 1967 lines and a Palestinian capital in
East Jerusalem.

On no account, says Lieberman. And, like the Jew who was sued for the jar,
he also has his three reasons:

First, we have no partner for peace.

Second, the Israeli government cannot make peace.

Third, peace is no good for us.

WE HAVE no partner for peace, because the Palestinians don’t want peace.
Lieberman, the immigrant from Moldavia, knows the Palestinians much better
than they know themselves. Therefore he states categorically: “Even if we
offer the Palestinians Tel Aviv and a withdrawal to the 1947 borders, they will
find a reason not to sign a peace treaty.” (The 1947 borders, fixed by the
United Nations, gave Israel 55% of the country, while the 1949-1967 borders
left Israel with 78%.)

True, this matter could be settled easily: Israel could enter negotiations and
offer a peace plan within the parameters set by President Bill Clinton and
adopted by Barack Obama. If the Palestinians refuse, we would not lose
anything and they would be shamed before the whole world.

Lieberman, so it seems, did not overlook such a possibility, and so he has
prepared an alternative argument: we cannot negotiate with the Palestinians
because they have no legitimate leadership.

Why not legitimate? Here Lieberman is revealed as the principled democrat
he is. Mahmoud Abbas’ term of office has expired. The Palestinian Authority
has held no new elections. Can one demand of Israel, the beacon of
democracy in the Middle East, to make peace with a leadership that has not
been lawfully elected?

Clearly, that is unthinkable. Israel will not betray its sacred principles. A
committed democrat like Lieberman can not and will not agree to that.

True, the great majority of the Palestinian people agree that Abbas should
conduct the negotiations. Even Hamas recently declared (not for the first
time) that if Abbas reaches a peace agreement, and if this is confirmed by the
Palestinian people in a referendum, Hamas would accept it, even though this
would be contrary to its principles.

But this does not interest Lieberman. He will not compromise himself by
negotiating with an administration whose democratic credentials are in

THIS IS NOT so important, because, according to Lieberman, Israel itself
cannot make peace.

Quite simply, “there are sharp differences of opinion within the coalition”. As
he puts it: “I don’t think that it is possible to achieve a common denominator
between Eli Yishai and Ehud Barak, or between me and Dan Meridor, or even
in Likud between Benny Begin and Michael Eitan (Meridor, Begin and Eitan
are all ministers without portfolio)…In the present political circumstances, it
is impossible for us to present a plan for a permanent settlement, because
the coalition would simply not survive.”

For Lieberman, as for Netanyahu, the continued existence of the present
coalition is clearly more important than reaching a “permanent settlement”.
True, one could easily set up an alternative coalition, based on Likud, Kadima
and Labor, but for Lieberman – and, so it seems, for Netanyahu, too – this
possibility is not worth considering.

THE CONCLUSION, according to Lieberman: peace is not possible, not now,
not for the coming decades.

But, fortunately, he has an alternative that is much better than a final peace

It is called “Long-Term Interim Agreement”.

This week, Lieberman leaked its basics: “A significant increase in
cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in the areas of security and the
economy…The aim of the Plan is to stabilize even more the situation in the
West Bank and increase the security cooperation with the Palestinian
Authority in order to give the Palestinians more security responsibilities for
what’s happening on the ground.”

So, it is possible after all to cooperate with the illegitimate regime of
Mahmoud Abbas, if he continues to collaborate with the Israel military and
Shin Bet to prevent attacks in Israel and the settlements. For this service, he
will be paid well: “The Plan will act to strengthen the Palestinian economy
significantly by increasing the freedom of movement between the Palestinian
towns in the West Bank and providing various economic inducements.”

Meaning: in payment for the services of the Palestinian Authority for Israel’s
security, Israel will graciously permit the inhabitants of Nablus to go to
Ramallah, and the inhabitants of Bethlehem to reach Hebron. Palestinian
workers will continue to build the settlements, whose numbers will increase
mightily, and the economic situation will improve.

The Plan also fixes targets: the Palestinian GNP pro capita must reach about
20 thousand dollars (more than ten times its present level). “When the
economic situation within the Palestinian Authority is similar to that in Israel,
it will be easier to renew the political negotiations and achieve a permanent

In other words: the occupation will continue until one of the following
happens: either the Palestinian standard of living will reach that of Israel or
the Messiah will come – whichever happens first. In any case, there is no
clear indication that either will happen within the next few decades..

IS THIS the plan of Lieberman only, or of Netanyahu, too?

When asked about the speech of his Foreign Minister, Netanyahu gave an
evasive answer. Any minister has the right to say whatever he wants, he
said, but only the government’s official policy counts.

Well, first of all, the Foreign Minister is not just “any minister”. The political
musings of the deputy Minister of Transportation (if any) may be unimportant,
but the Foreign Minister is the international spokesman of the state, the
representative of the government abroad.

But Netanyahu continued that if negotiations are resumed and these come
up against a brick wall, it is very possible that there will be no choice but to
conclude an interim agreement.

In practice, it is Netanyahu himself who is holding up the negotiations,
because he refuses to freeze the settlements and he demands that the
Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”. And even if negotiations
were resumed, they would soon come up against a wall, because of our
government’s attitude towards East Jerusalem and the borders.

So what remains? Interim forever!