Israeli premier apologizes to Mubarak over rightwinger's "get lost"
Israeli Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert telephoned Egyptian President Hozny Mubarak Wednesday to apologize "in the name of the state of Israel" for a remark in which a hardline Israeli lawmaker told the Egyptian president to "get lost."
Avigdor Lieberman of the ultra-nationalist, opposition Israel Our Home faction in an address to Israel's Knesset (parliament) criticized Israel's leadership for agreeing to meet with Mubarak on a frequent basis in Cairo, while the Egyptian leader had declined to visit Israel in return, dpa reported.
Lieberman spoke during a memorial session for late Israeli minister Rehavan Zeevi, who was assassinated by Palestinian militants in a Jerusalem hotel seven years ago. Zeevi, Lieberman said, "would never agree to the self-effacing attitude of Israel vis-a-vis Egypt. Time after time we went to see Mubarak in Egypt. He never agreed to come here in an official capacity as president."
"Every self-respecting (Israeli) leader," he added, would expect a reciprocal visit when making one on his own. "He wants to talk with us? Let him come here. He doesn't want to talk with us, let him get lost," Lieberman said.
He used the Hebrew expression "kol ha'ruhot," which in a literal translation would mean, to go "in all directions of the wind."
Olmert's office issued a statement, saying the Israeli leader telephoned Mubarak and told him he "apologizes in the name of the state of Israel for the rude remarks which Knesset member Avigdor Lieberman directed at him from the Knesset podium."
"These statements should not have been made and the moment they are, we are talking about words that are superfluous and damaging," Olmert said, adding Israel regards Mubarak as a "strategic partner and a close friend and views tightening the relations with Egypt and strengthening the peace between the two countries as being of the utmost importance."
Israeli President Shimon Peres too telephoned the Egyptian leader to reassure him that Lieberman's words did not reflect Israeli policy. Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab states which have made formal peace with Israel.
Cairo signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and officially established relations with its north-eastern neighbour in 1980, becoming the first Arab country to exchange ambassadors with the Jewish state. The late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was the first, and only, Egyptian president to have visited Israel. He was assassinated in 1981.