Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 19:09 pm (KSA) 16:09 pm (GMT)

Israeli FM prompts backlash with Golan stance

Israel's new right-wing govt takes a hard-line stance on foreign relations
Israel's new right-wing govt takes a hard-line stance on foreign relations

Israel's new Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman continued his hard-line stance on Thursday and rejected returning the annexed Golan Heights to Damascus, prompting backlashes from Syria's president and Israel's former foreign minister, who slammed Lieberman's fiery comments.

In an interview with Israel's Haaretz newspaper Lieberman said: "There is no cabinet resolution regarding negotiations with Syria, and we have already said that we will not agree to withdraw from the Golan Heights."

 There is no cabinet resolution regarding negotiations with Syria, and we have already said that we will not agree to withdraw from the Golan Heights 
Israeli FM Lieberman

Lieberman's comments came a day after the firebrand minister said the new right-wing government led by hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not bound by the U.S.-backed agreement to relaunch peace talks with the Palestinians reached in 2007 at the Annapolis, Maryland conference.

The Golan Heights is a strategic plateau that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed in 1981, a move not recognized by the international community.

Syria, which technically remains in a state of war with Israel, wants the territory back as part of any peace deal and last year indirect talks were conducted, via Turkey, but they were stopped in December when Israel launched its 22-day assault of the Gaza Strip.

Under investigation

 Lieberman was quizzed by investigators from the fraud department on suspicion of corruption, fraud, money laundering and breach of trust  
Police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld

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.

On Thursday, a day after the new foreign minister sparked criticism by saying Israel was not bound by a US-backed 2007 agreement to restart talks with the Palestinians; he rejected any withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria.

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

 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 
Avigdor Lieberman

As diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt remained icy, following the Gaza assault, 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.

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