Iran is at the heart of the Middle East conflict and any settlement with the Palestinians could take decades to cement, Israel’s hardline foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday.
He told the UN General Assembly that Iran, through its links with militant groups, could “foil” any peace accord with the Palestinians, or with neighbouring Lebanon.
“The Iran issue must be resolved” before there can be agreement with the Palestinians, said the minister who is a key coalition ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lieberman made no mention of the end of the Israeli moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank.
He said simply that Israel is “ready for a fair solution and we are ready to cooperate with the international community”.
He focused his address to the UN ministerial session on Iran and “the utter lack of confidence” between Israelis and Palestinians.
Lieberman said it was “completely irresponsible” to suggest that the decades old Israel-Palestinian conflict “prevents a determined international front against Iran” and its nuclear drive.
“In truth, the connection between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is precisely reversed. Iran can exist without Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, but the terrorist organisations cannot exist without Iran,” he declared.
“Relying on these proxies, Iran can at any given time foil any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians or with Lebanon.
“Thus, in searching for a durable agreement with the Palestinians, one which will deal with the true roots of the conflict and which will endure for many years, one must understand that first, the Iranian issue must be resolved. One must deal first with the root of the problem and not its symptoms.”
Israeli leaders regularly joust on the diplomatic stage against Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the comments have become more hard edged in recent months as the international campaign against Iran’s nuclear programme has toughened.
Ahmadinejad said in New York last week that there would be war with “no limits” if there was a US-backed Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Lieberman, whose comment also regularly attract controversy, said the “emotional” and “practical” problems between Israelis and Palestinians meant there has to be a two-stage peace settlement.
“The emotional problems are first and foremost the utter lack of confidence between the sides and issues such as Jerusalem, recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People and refugees.
“Under these conditions, we should focus on coming up with a long-term intermediate agreement, something that could take a few decades.
“We need to raise an entire new generation that will have mutual trust and will not be influenced by incitement and extremist messages.”
He added that the “friction” caused by “two nations, two religions and two languages with competing claims to the same land” meant there has to be a new look at the makeup of any new state.
“The guiding principle for a final status agreement must not be land-for-peace but rather, exchange of populated territory,” Lieberman said.
“Let me be very clear: I am not speaking about moving populations, but rather about moving borders to better reflect demographic realities.”