From the attempted delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip to the call for Israel to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the number of things officials have warned against on the grounds of “hindering peace talks” has been staggering. This did not appear to expend to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s office, however, as he delivered a speech at the United Nations calling for the mass expulsion of Arabs from Israel.
“A final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has to be based on a program of exchange of territory and populations,” Lieberman told the General Assembly. Once a vigorous opponent of the peace talks, Lieberman has since changed his position to one of making the entire peace process an excuse for expelling large portions of Israel’s Arab population abroad, one of his political party’s core principles.
But while the most immediate concern is what effect this demand may have on the already mortally wounded peace process, it also underscores the almost ridiculous level of animosity growing between Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose office was quick to point out that the FM didn’t coordinate the speech with him.
The reality is that in recent months Lieberman, as Israel’s top diplomat, has been conducting an independent foreign policy at completely cross purposes to the Netanyahu government’s. It is this, more than anything else, that is sparking confusion about where this far-right government stands, as lip-service to peace agreements inevitably gives way to screeds about cleansing the nation of certain “disloyal” ethnicities. While the peace process may be dead, or close to it, the fight between Netanyahu and Lieberman seems destined to continue into the forseeable future.