Lieberman on Arab initiative: A "formula for destruction of Israel"

The Arab peace initiative could lead to the destruction of Israel because of a clause calling for the return to it of millions of Palestinian refugees, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was quoted Wednesday as saying, dpa reported.

The initiative is a "dangerous and a tested formula for the destruction of Israel," Lieberman told staffers at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem this week, according to the daily Ma'ariv newspaper.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor said the statement was made during an internal discussion and taken out of context.

"He (Lieberman) said that the Arab claim for the return of Palestinian refugees into Israel is a danger to the existence of Israel," Palmor told the German Press Agency dpa.

"What is dangerous for Israel is not the peace initiative as such, but one specific item in it," he clarified.

The Arab peace initiative was first presented by Saudi Arabia at a 2002 summit of the Arab League in Beirut. Adopted, and readopted at another Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2007, it for the first time ever offered all round normalization of ties by Arab states with Israel, in return for a full Israel withdrawal from the occupied territories and the creation of a Palestinian state there.

Members of previous Israeli governments have since welcomed as "historic" the Arab offer for normalization, but have rejected the clause calling for a "just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, based on UN General Assembly resolution 194" of December 1948.

The government of hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since taking office in March not expressed itself on the Arab initiative.

Resolution 194 states that refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, which erupted following the creation of Israel in May of that year, should be allowed to return to their homes and thos who choose not to, should be paid compensation.

Palmor called the resolution "completely obsolete," because it also called for the internationalization of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

He said Arab leaders when specifying the Saudi initiative had been demanding "a total return of all the refugees and their descendants into Israel, which would turn Israel into a Palestinian state."

"That of course is completely out of the question and this is what the minister meant. This is what he said," Palmor told dpa.

Since 1948, the number of registered refugees living in UN-run camps in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and neighbouring Arab countries, has grown some six-fold to 4.5 million.

According to Ma'ariv, a rift has developed between Lieberman of the ultra-nationalist Israel Beiteinu coalition party and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, of the left-to-centre Labour Party, who wants to promote the Arab peace initiative.

The daily added that a "head-on" clash could also be expected between Lieberman and the administration of US President Barack Obama over the issue.

According to Ma'ariv, Netanyahu himself, in his talks last week with Obama's envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, signalled he would not reject the Arab peace initiative out of hand.

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