Israel’s controversial Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, appears to have persuaded Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to adopt a peace plan which the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu views as an alternative to the two-state solution as it is usually defined.
Mr Lieberman, who has been visiting European capitals, revealed the outlines of his plan at a reception in London on Tuesday, on the eve of his meeting with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. He also discussed the plan, which he has floated before, in Italy last week.
Mr Lieberman made clear that the Israeli government is basing its approach on the model provided by the Cyprus conflict. After some population transfers, the Greek and Turkish populations now live in wholly separate areas. They co-exist after a de facto peace agreement. The Greek area is the internationally recognised state of Cyprus; the Turkish zone is run autonomously but depends on Turkey, the only country which recognises it, for support.
Mr Lieberman said that Cyprus showed how “friction and tension and bloodshed” can be replaced by “security, stability and prosperity”. He continued: “This kind of solution can grow. It is very similar to us.”
As the JC reported two weeks ago, Mr Netanyahu is expected to tell President Obama in Washington next week that Israel will accept a two-state solution. But it is clear from Mr Lieberman’s remarks that the Israeli concept of “two-state solution” is very different to that of the Americans.
The Foreign Minister said that there were three “solutions” for hostile communities living together. The first was typified by the creation of Czechoslovakia after the First World War, but that, as the annexation by Germany of the Sudetenland showed, “if you remember history this is a very bad solution”.
The second was the Good Friday agreement in Northern Island. This, he said, was “a very good solution. The problem? It took 800 years. I’m not sure we have 800 years.”
The third model was Cyprus. “I think we have more interest in this,” he said. “In Cyprus after 1974 it was the same situation as in Israel. Greeks and Turks were living together, there was friction and tension and bloodshed.” Separation had brought peace and prosperity.
The Foreign Minister was speaking in the London home of JNF chairman Samuel Hayek. Demonstrators threw bagels at those attending, and Mr Lieberman’s security guards delayed his arrival until the demonstration had been dispersed.
In a wide-ranging talk, he said that he rejected the word “peace” because “I’m not sure that we have partners for peace. What we can provide for ourselves is, first of all, security.” But he made clear that he wanted to see “a comprehensive solution… in the next two to three years”.
Mr Lieberman also said that the European focus on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is “a misunderstanding… We have some trouble with the Palestinian Authority but the real conflict in the Middle East is between the extremist Islamic wing and moderate people and countries. The PA is not afraid of Israel. They really face a very serious fight, but not with Israel but from Hamas and jihad”.
The conflict, he said, was at root caused by Iran: “The biggest threat to all our interests, the biggest threat to the US… the biggest threat to Western Europe is Iran.” Iran intends to take power in Lebanon through its proxy, Hizbollah, he said.
On Wednesday, Mr Lieberman met Mr Miliband. MPs Richard Burden, Jeremy Corbyn, Martin Linton and Baroness Jenny Tonge protested outside the FCO as he arrived.
The two ministers expressed “deep concern” about Iran’s nuclear intentions and destabilising actions in the region. However, unlike Mr Lieberman, Mr Miliband has been a champion of the Arab Peace Initiative (API) first proposed seven years ago by Saudi Arabia, offering Israel full recognition and normalisation of relations with Arab states.
Speaking in Riyadh last month, Mr Miliband said that the API “was not given the attention it deserved”. He told the Saudis that there should be not a two-state solution “but a 23-state solution — 22 members of the Arab League plus Israel”. On Monday, King Abdullah of Jordan talked of a 57-state solution — meaning every Muslim nation.