Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's remarks Sunday, Sept. 5, that an Israeli-Palestinian peace would not come this year or even in the next generation, infuriated some political circles in Jerusalem. The opposition accused him of breaking ranks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ahead of the second round of his direct talks with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, next week.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East envoy George Mitchell had already booked their flight to the Sinai resort to hover protectively over the new peace process born of President Barak Obama's ambition to perform the peace miracle that had been denied all his predecessors in the White House.
However, debkafile's political sources reveal that Lieberman, whose favorite position is that of hawkish maverick, was manipulating for his own political ends inside information reaching him from Obama's circle. He had discovered that the peace hype staged in Washington last week had not clouded President Obama appreciation of the goals realistically attainable from the face-to-face process he kicked off. He had no illusions about achieving more than an interim framework with ambiguous, non-binding applications on the core issues of the Israel-Palestinian dispute, with which Israelis and Palestinians could live with over a period of several years.
This achievement would be hailed as a major success and credited to the US president.
And indeed, the US officials addressing the peace ceremonies in Washington last week talked about resolving issues and hardly used the word peace – unlike the Israeli prime minister.
Lieberman set his many critics by the ears when he said he did not believe the Palestinians would sign a peace accord "recognizing Israel as the Jewish nation-state within the year assigned by Washington for the direct talks – or even in the next generation."
Addressing his Israeli Beitenu party activists after listening to Netanyahu's briefing to the Forum of Seven, Lieberman said he said he was ready to give the prime minister a chance to explore the process, but without illusions that painful concessions and compromises would achieve anything more than they did in Israel's repeated testing of the peace track in the last 17 years. Much better, he said, "to focus on security and a long-term interim understanding for stabilizing the not inconsiderable advances Israel has already made with the Palestinians," he advised.
The foreign minister exploited his knowledge of the realistic expectations in the White House to maneuver himself and his party into the lead of the hawkish camp in Israeli politics. He took advantage of the fact that the nationalist activists of the Prime Minister's Likud were either backing Netanyahu's diplomatic venture or holding silent so as not to rock the boat – for now..
On the Palestinian side, Mohammad Dahlan an extremist member of Abbas' Fatah – former strongman of Gaza – dismissed the Israeli prime minister's call for peace and called him "a fraud."
Like Lieberman, he saw through the US initiative to its underlying limited goals. He was using this knowledge to get at Netanyahu and through him to expose Mahmoud Abbas, whom he seeks to overthrow, by showing him to be weak and wanting in loyalty to Palestinian aspirations.