Lieberman's UN speech not agreed with Netanyahu
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's address to the UN General Assembly, in which he said that establishing a comprehensive peace in the Middle East "could take decades," was not coordinated with the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu's office has said, RIA Novosti reported.
In his Tuesday's speech, which followed the expiry of a partial moratorium on Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, Lieberman suggested that the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators should focus on securing "a long-term intermediate agreement" rather then a final-status deal.
Such an agreement, he said, would allow the development of the Palestinian economy and help achieve a comprehensive peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples within "a few decades."
A statement issued by Netanyahu's office said that "the prime minister is the one who is heading the negotiations on behalf of the State of Israel," and all issues related to the peace process "will be discussed and decided on at the negotiation table, not anywhere else."
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who heads center-left Labor Party, also said in a statement that Lieberman's speech "does not reflect the position of the Israeli government or the Labor Party."
Lieberman, whose Israel is Our Home party has the third largest faction in the country's parliament, told the General Assembly that "the guiding principle for a final status agreement must not be land-for-peace but rather, exchange of populated territory."
"Let me be very clear: I am not speaking about moving populations, but rather about moving borders to better reflect demographic realities," the foreign minister said.
About 400,000 Israelis live in some 120 settlements built across the West Bank, while about 1.3 million Arabs - those Palestinians who remained after Israel was founded in 1948, and their descendants - are spread across Israel. Altogether, they make up about 20 percent of the Israeli population.
Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who resumed direct talks in early September following a 20-months break, committed themselves to inking a comprehensive deal within a year, which envisages the creation of a Palestinian state beside a secure Israel.
The talks, however, came under threat after a 10-month moratorium on the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank expired on Monday. Abbas has repeatedly threatened to pull out from negotiations immediately if the freeze is not extended, but Netanyahu has refused to meet the Palestinians' demand.
Although construction has already resumed in several Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Abbas has been reluctant to carry out his threat, saying he would hold consultations with the Arab League before announcing his decision. The talks are expected to take place on October 4 in Cairo.
Netanyahu expressed hope on Tuesday that direct talks with Abbas would continue despite the resumption of settlement building, the Israeli prime minister's office said.
Netanyahu reportedly told French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a telephone conversation that he would visit Paris for a summit of world leaders due to take place later in October, which Abbas is also going to attend.