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Israel 'closer than ever' to making deal with Palestinians, Lieberman says

June 10, 2017 11:14 A.M. (Updated: June 11, 2017 8:38 P.M.)
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issues a statement at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 4, 2015 (AFP/Gali Tibbon/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel’s ultraright Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday that Israel was closer to an “agreement” with the Palestinians than “ever before,” several Israeli media sources reported, and that direct talks could possibly be held between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next month under the direction of US President Donald Trump.

“We are closer than ever before to an agreement. I hope that we will take advantage of this opportunity,” Lieberman reportedly told Israel’s Channel 2. While Lieberman did not provide details of this agreement, he noted that the agreement was a result of Trump “arriving on the scene,” and added that “the Arab countries have internalized that their problem is not Israel. Israel can be a solution to the problem.”

According to Channel 2, Netanyahu and Abbas could hold direct talks in Washington DC next month in a three-way meeting with Trump. The meeting would mark the first time in seven years the two leaders have held direct talks.

In the past, Netanyahu has rejected Abbas' demands for preconditions to be met before holding any direct talks, including halting Israel's settlement construction in the Palestinian territory and releasing Palestinian political prisoners from Israeli custody who were supposed to be released in 2014, according to the Oslo peace agreements.

Lieberman also indicated that a normalization with “moderate Arab countries” would be central to such an agreement, saying that “if someone comes and puts a deal on the table that includes an agreement with all the moderate Arab nations, including the opening of embassies, trade relations and direct flights, it would get a majority in the Knesset.”

However, Palestinian leaders have expressed a very different sentiment regarding current Israeli-Palestinian relations, with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi denouncing on Thursday Israel’s plans to expand illegal Israeli settlements and to establish a new settlement on Palestinian territory for the first time in more than two decades.

“Israel is making a mockery of the international community and the global justice system,” Ashrawi said of the move.

“Clearly, Israel’s creeping annexation of Palestine is escalating because of the international community’s inability to translate its verbal statements and condemnations into serious and concrete actions to bring Israel to account,” Ashrawi said, adding to growing condemnation of the international community’s inaction in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, Muhammad Mustafa, an economic adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, denied on Thursday reports that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was no longer calling for a stop to settlement construction as a prerequisite for a two-state solution, official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

“The Palestinian position on settlements is firm and has not changed,” Wafa quoted Mustafa as saying. “Stopping and freezing them is a necessity and a prelude to their dismantling and removing them from the territory of the State of Palestine in any final agreement."

Meanwhile, Trump has remained largely elusive on the issue of Palestine, saying in February that when it came to a solution for the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict he could “live with either” a one- or two-state solution, in a significant departure from the US’ publicly held position in favor of a two-state solution to the conflict.

Nevertheless, his elusiveness has not belied the fact that Trump and his administration have maintained their pro-Israel stance, despite stated efforts to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which he said in the past was "not as difficult as people have thought over the years.”
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