The World from Berlin: 'Netanyahu and Lieberman Are the Gravediggers of the Peace Process'

With Likud and Yisrael Beitenu having signed a coalition agreement, it looks increasingly likely that far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman will be the next Israeli foreign minister. German newspapers are concerned that such an appointment would signal the end of the peace process.

With far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman looking likely to become Israel's next foreign minister, leading figures in Europe have said that it may no longer be "business as usual" with Israel.

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party.
AFP

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party.

Prime Minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu is still in the process of building a coalition government and on Tuesday his spokeswoman said he had a "strong desire" to bring in more moderate parties. However, with Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party having sealed a deal with Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu on Monday, it is highly unlikely that Kadima or the center-left Labour Party will join the government. On Monday Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, the current Israeli foreign minister, said that she was not prepared to join a coalition that did not share her party's commitment to a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Lieberman, whose party represents many immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union, has drawn accusations of racism for a proposal that would require Arab citizens of Israel to sign loyalty oaths or lose their citizenship. On Monday, the Israeli Arab lawmaker Ahmed Tibi called for an international boycott of Lieberman if he is appointed foreign minister. "No minister should meet him, especially no Arab minister," he told Reuters.

The European Union has already signalled that, regardless of who is in the coalition, it wants to see a continued commitment to the peace process. Foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Sunday that the EU could only "do business as usual with a government in Israel that is prepared to continue talking and working for a two-state solution." And on Monday, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said: "What we want to see is a foreign minister of Israel that accepts a two-state solution."

Netanyahu still needs other coalition partners to form a majority government. His Likud party won 27 seats in the Feb. 10 election, while Yisrael Beitenu won 15. Netanyahu is due to continue talks with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which won 11 seats, on Tuesday in his bid to reach a majority in the 120-member parliament.

On Tuesday, German commentators are gloomy about the prospects for peace in the Middle East, arguing that Netanyahu and Lieberman represent a step backwards.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Netanyahu does not have the courage to pursue a new path in the relationship with the Palestinians. He has his election campaign of fear to thank for the fact that he will become prime minister for the second time. Netanyahu associates politics with fear, not hope. In that he differs fundamentally from the new administration in Washington. He foments fear of Iran's nuclear program, fear of the rockets from Hamas and Hezbollah. Most of all, he demonizes the Palestinians, which is why he is rejecting a two-state solution and the continuation of peace talks."

"Under Netanyahu and his vassals from the right-wing and the ultra-Orthodox camps, there will be no new political departures, rather steps backward and newly whipped-up enmities. Netanyahu is only going to administer the conflict, not solve it. He and Lieberman are the gravediggers of the Middle East peace process. They want to maintain the occupation and expand the settlements. This is all very convenient for the radical Islamist movement Hamas. They don't need any peacemakers in Jerusalem, but rather someone like Netanyahu who wants to end their control of the Gaza Strip through force. Hamas needs Netanyahu, because the confrontation with Israel legitimizes its very existence."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"While many Arabs accept the hardliner Netanyahu as a negotiating partner, despite his rejection of the two-state solution, Lieberman is a persona non grata for Israel's neighbors -- even for states like Jordan and Egypt who see themselves as Jerusalem's partners."

"Progress in the Middle East conflict is only possible if the Arab states are included in the negotiating process. … In order to prevent a dangerous escalation of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors, Lieberman as foreign minister will have to undergo a similar U-turn to that of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. By giving up the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, Sharon, the hardliner and former Likud politician, turned his back on his political roots at the end of his career. Lieberman, however, is just starting his career."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Whoever had believed that after the short but brutal war in the Gaza Strip and the inauguration of President Obama that the relations between Israel and the Palestinians could experience a new beginning has been disappointed. The parliamentary elections in Israel on Feb. 10 had possibly the most inconvenient result: It not only mirrors the split in Israeli society, but makes it more difficult to form a government. A coalition between Likud and Kadima would have provided a better chance of reviving the peace process than the formation of a right-wing government that includes the extreme-right Yisrael Beitenu. But this seems to now be the likely outcome."

"And on the side of the Palestinians, things don't seem much better. The civil war of two years ago sealed the double leadership structure of the (moderate) Fatah in the West Bank and the (radical) Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This weakened the Palestinians politically and increased the level of chaos. This seems to suit those Israelis who have no interest in pursuing the peace process and who have stuck to the old principle of divide and conquer."

"For those who would like to see this conflict resolved once and for all -- including the international community -- this was and is an unacceptable position. ... Israel's politicians would be well advised to ... pursue a more accommodating policy when it comes to the peace process."

-- Siobhán Dowling, 12:45 p.m. CET

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