Despite President Barack Obama’s public hectoring of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over its commitment to the peace process with the Palestinians, a senior official in the new government told Newsmax in Jerusalem that the government was “not aware of any pressure” from Washington.
“We have a great deal of respect for President Obama and his team,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said. “We will follow their lead in many ways, in the fight against terrorism, the fight against nuclear proliferation, the fight against the Islamic radicals and terrorists who are motivated and inspired by Iran.”
When it comes to negotiations with the Palestinians, however, Ayalon repeated in more diplomatic terms the statements of his direct boss, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the conservative Israel Beiteinu Party.
“On the Palestinian front, our interest is to move forward in a judicious way. We are studying the accumulated experience of the past 16 years, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes,” he said.
On Tuesday, Lieberman told an Israel Beiteinu gathering in Jerusalem that 16 years of negotiations with the Palestinians had lead to a diplomatic “dead end.”
He dismissed those who criticized him for rejecting the 2007 Annapolis agreement as “trying to build a ‘Galut state’ instead of a Jewish state that would give up the national interest and national honor.”
The Annapolis agreement called for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to move directly to “final status” negotiations toward the creation of a Palestinian state, despite the election of a radical Hamas government that rejected the existence of the state of Israel.
“Galut” is a charged term in Hebrew, with connotations of living in a state of sin and distance from God. Its simplest meaning is “exile,” as Jews considered themselves to be during the Diaspora.
But Lieberman also complained that the Palestinian issue was being given too much importance, and that the government’s “focus should be moved from the Palestinians over to Iran.”
This has emerged as the central theme of the new government, one that the Obama administration will witness up close next week when presidential envoy George Mitchell returns to Israel after the Passover holiday and sets up a permanent office there.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon believes that Iran is inherently vulnerable, and can be convinced to change its behavior if made to pay a high enough price.
“Iran is acting like a bully, but I believe they are bluffing, because they are not a strong country. They have a vulnerable social fabric. If they are subjected to serious pressure they could easily collapse. But so far, their intransigence has never been challenged.”
“The sanctions we have today are not working,” he said. “They are not serious. Iran continues to trade. They continue to get access to financial markets. They continue to buy the materials that are important for their delivery systems and their nuclear effort. So sanctions have to be very tight.
“With tight sanctions, they will realize there is a price to pay for their behavior. So far, Iran has paid no price for its intransigence.”
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