Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has called on peacemaking body the Quartet on the Middle East to force elections on Palestinians in a bid to oust Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and revitalize the dormant peace process.
In a letter sent on Tuesday to the Quartet’s top diplomats, Lieberman said that Abbas “apparently is uninterested or unable ... to reach an agreement which would bring an end to the conflict.”
“General elections in the PA [Palestinian Authority] should be held, and a new, legitimate, hopefully realistic Palestinian leadership should be elected,” he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office rushed to distance itself from any attempt to dictate Palestine’s electoral timetable.
“The letter of the foreign minister does not represent the opinion of the prime minister or the government,” an official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
“We continue to work with the Palestinian leadership to restart the dialogue and of course Israel will not interfere in internal Palestinian politics,” he added.
US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “We have obviously seen the letter. We have also seen comments in the last few hours from Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has clarified that the Foreign Minister’s letter doesn’t reflect his position and that he has responsibility for these issues.”
Nuland said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had seen Abbas recently “and so we expect to be able to continue to work well with him.”
Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since September 2010 following an intractable dispute over settlements, and Quartet efforts to bring the two sides closer together have so far led nowhere.
In the letter, Lieberman said Israel had made “several significant gestures” to the PA, including efforts to boost its economy, an agreement to employ more Palestinian construction workers in Israel and reducing the number of roadblocks in the West Bank.
“Unfortunately, despite these steps, we do not see any willingness or positive attitude on the part of the PA,” Lieberman wrote to Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
For Lieberman, the standstill in talks could be resolved through the “creative solution” of internal Palestinian elections.
“Despite Abbas’ delays, general elections in the PA should be held, and a new, legitimate, hopefully realistic Palestinian leadership should be elected,” Lieberman said, adding that “PA elections were due to be held in 2010 and have since been postponed several times.”
Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeinah, condemned the letter as “inflammatory” and said that it showed Lieberman was isolated from the political mainstream.
“He is politically bankrupt,” Abu Rudeinah said in a statement. “Lieberman’s statements do not contribute to creating an environment of peace.”
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat accused Lieberman of “incitement to murder.”
“These statements constitute a clear incitement to murder and are similar to the campaign that was launched by former Israeli premier [Ariel] Sharon against late [Palestinian] president Yasser Arafat that ended in his murder,” he said.
Erakat said he had contacted the Quartet to stop the “smear campaign” against Abbas and denied Lieberman’s claim that the Palestinian president was preventing elections.
In April last year, Abbas’ ruling Fatah Party signed a reconciliation deal with its Hamas rivals who govern Gaza in a move aimed at ending years of rivalry.
However, the deal was never implemented, with the factions falling out over plans to set up a caretaker cabinet of independents which was to have prepared the way for presidential and legislative elections within a year.