Hawkish Lieberman Ruffles Feathers

Showing off his hardline positions, new Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected Thursday, April 2, any Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

"There is no cabinet resolution regarding negotiations with Syria," Lieberman told Haaretz in an interview.

"And we have already said that we will not agree to withdraw from the Golan Heights."

Israel occupied the Golan Heights, a strategic Syrian plateau, during the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981.

Israel has repeatedly refused a total withdrawal from the occupied Syrian land.

"Peace will only be in exchange for peace," Lieberman said.

Commenting on Lieberman’s remarks, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad vowed to liberate the occupied Golan Heights.

"The day in which we will be liberated (on the Golan) is at hand – by peace or war," Assad told A-Sharq newspaper.

"The Israeli will not come by his own will, so there is no alternative but for him to come from fear."

Lieberman’s remarks came shortly after saying that Israel was not bound by the US-hosted Annapolis conference understandings on the creation of a Palestinian state.

"I am committed to the roadmap of 2003 as approved by the Israeli cabinet," he said during a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry.

"Whoever thinks that he will achieve something by way of concessions – no, he will only invite more pressure and more wars.

"If you want peace, prepare for war," Lieberman said.

Blow to Peace

Lieberman’s remarks immediately drew flak from Israeli and Palestinian officials.

"(Lieberman) showed the world that we are not a partner (for peace)," opposition leader Tzipi Livni said.

She said Israel was always complaining that there was no partner for peace on the Palestinian side, but that Lieberman’s position would in fact make the international community perceive Israel as the main obstacle.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Lieberman was using the roadmap’s phasing as a "pretext" to avoid peacemaking.

"He’s trying to rewrite the roadmap to suit his agenda of refusing to stop settlement activities and to negotiate on the core issues," Erekat said.

Analysts said Lieberman’s anti-peace remarks deal a blow to US President Barack Obama’s undertakings to resume peace negotiations.

"That means no serious talks anytime soon," a senior Western diplomat told Reuters.

Analysts also believe that Lieberman’s stances would create "potential for confrontation" with Washington.

"It is the view of this government that by trying to reach a final settlement," Nicolas Pelham of the International Crisis Group said.

"You’re putting the cart before the horse."

Under Investigation

Meanwhile, Lieberman was dramatically hauled in by police on Thursday and questioned for more than seven hours over graft allegations.

When news broke of his interrogation, the head of the ultra-nationalist Israel Beiteinu party had already created shockwaves in Israel and around the world by taking a hard line towards the peace process with the Palestinians.

Lieberman, who only began work in earnest on Wednesday, was quizzed by investigators from the fraud department "on suspicion of corruption, fraud, money laundering and breach of trust," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

According to media reports, he received "very large sums of money from abroad" to finance his electoral campaign. This money was reportedly channeled through fictitious companies and various bank accounts.

Lieberman’s seven hours being grilled by police drew the limelight from his outspoken comments on policy, which had prompted fears Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might bury the troubled peace talks.

Lieberman has been dogged by corruption allegations for years, but has never been charged. Police revived one probe just weeks before the election, but the move only boosted his popularity as it was perceived as politically-motivated, according to pollsters.

A statement from his office said Lieberman is "in a hurry to end this inquiry which has gone on for 13 years. The minister cooperated and answered the investigators’ questions."
Egypt and Lieberman

As diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt remained icy, Egyptian officials could not forget Lieberman’s insult of President Hosni Mubarak last year and said if Lieberman did not apologize they would not deal with him.

Lieberman angered Egypt in October 2008 when he said Mubarak could "go to hell" if he did not want to visit Israel.

An Egyptian official said his country would not deal with the fiery minister unless he apologizes: "He has insulted us before. Now he has to apologize," the official told The Jerusalem Post.

Taking a conciliatory tone Lieberman told Haaretz: "Egypt is an important element in the Arab world and in the world in general. I would certainly be happy to visit Egypt, but I’ll also be happy to see Egypt’s leaders visit here. I respect others and want them to respect us; I support the principle of reciprocity."

Lieberman’s deputy also told the paper that Egypt had not demanded an apology and said Israel and Egypt had a "very solid foundation" that would continue to work for peace.

(IslamOnline.net, Alarabiya.net and Agencies)

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