Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 19:03 pm (KSA) 16:03 pm (GMT)

Israel right-wing govt raises concerns for Arabs

As the new Israeli FM Lieberman poses problems for the peace process
As the new Israeli FM Lieberman poses problems for the peace process

The appointment of a controversial right-wing nationalist as foreign minister in Israel's new government raised concern among Arab and western governments Tuesday over the future of the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Avigdor Lieberman, an ultranationalist and revisionist who leads the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party accepted the foreign minister post Monday in a governing pact with prime minister- designate Benjamin Netanyahu.

 This is the man who broke with Olmert because the latter went to Annapolis 
Imad Gad, Arab Israeli relations expert

Arab and Western experts cautioned that the Lieberman’s appointment could make it difficult to progress on peace talks and suggested the rightward shift coupled with the recent war in Gaza had effectively torpedoed the Arab-Israeli peace process.

"This is the man who broke with Olmert because the latter went to Annapolis," Emad Gad, an analyst at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told AlArabiya.net. "His racist and abrasive attitude towards Arab countries is well-known and no change in his approach is to be expected."

As foreign minister, Lieberman poses a challenge for Egypt and Jordan, the only two countries that have signed peace treaties with the Jewish state. While Egypt maintained its diplomatic relations with Israel during the Gaza war despite severe criticism from other Arab states, Gad said it may no longer be possible to continue a mediating role between Israel and Palestinian factions with Lieberman in the picture.

 Egypt will probably never invite Lieberman to visit Egypt and if he wanted to come, they would find ways to postpone his visit 
Gad, Arab Israeli relations expert

"Egypt will probably never invite Lieberman to visit Egypt and if he wanted to come, they would find ways to postpone his visit," Gad said, adding that Lieberman's "rude language" and combative approach "disgusts the Egyptians."

"In 1998 Lieberman called on Israel to bomb the High Dam in Aswan and flood Egypt. He also told President Hosni Mubarak to 'go to hell' when the Egyptian president refused to visit Israel last year. Add to that his attempts to force Arab Israelis to sign a loyalty oath to Israel," said Gad. "He is unpragmatic and problematic."

Lieberman was a big winner in last month's general elections. His popularity put him in the position of coalition kingmaker with the power to veto other party coalitions within the Knesset.

Lieberman's party won the third largest number of seats in the Feb. 10 election in which Israel swung to the right after a 22-day offensive in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Boycott Israel

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana uggested the bloc would no longer cooperate with Israel

Israeli Arab lawmaker Ahmed Tibi called for an international boycott of Lieberman. "No minister should meet him, especially no Arab minister," Tibi told Reuters.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana suggested the bloc would no longer do 'business as usual' with an Israeli government that backed away from Western-supported negotiations on creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

"We will be ready to do business as usual, normally with a government in Israel that is prepared to continue talking and working for a two-state solution," Solana said in Brussels. "If that is not the case, the situation would be different."

Isarel's relations with Washington are also likely to come under pressure regarding ongoing expansion of Jewish settlements, in which Lieberman himself is a resident.

 To accept Lieberman in the government in the first place shows that the problem is with the overall Israeli authorities and power 
Haneen Zoabi, Arab Knesset member

Haneen Zoabi, Arab Israeli member of the Knesset said Lieberman’s appointment proves that Israel’s political authority gives legitimacy to racism within Israeli politics and society.

"To accept Lieberman in the government in the first place shows that the problem is with the overall Israeli authorities and power," Zoabi told AlArabiya.net. "Lieberman does not respect his position as political diplomat as he openly disrespects Arab world."

Likud officials have said a "unity government" including Kadima could help avoid friction with U.S. President Barack Obama, who has pledged to pursue Palestinian statehood.

Addressing Kadima legislators after the Netanyahu-Lieberman deal was announced, party leader Tzipni Livni reaffirmed one of her party's main conditions for joining a broad coalition: the continuation of land-for-peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

"Joining a (narrow coalition government) and serving as a fig leaf in order to bolster a different policy is certainly not the right thing to do," she said.

Netanyahu has proposed shifting the focus of the talks to economic issues.

Realizing that both Kadima and the center-left Labour party were unlikely to join a broad coalition, Netanyahu met President Shimon Peres on Monday night and asked him to try to persuade them to join his government, news reports said.

Likud's talks with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, another likely coalition partner, resumed Tuesday after failing to conclude a deal on Monday.

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