Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has made a stormy entrance. The "ultra-nationalist" (BBC and al-Jazeera); is "blunt and belligerent" (The New York Times); "aggressive" (Haaretz) and a "racist" (Yasser Abed Rabbo). This new government will make "no concessions for peace" (Guardian) and "spurn the peace process" (CNN)
Why the uproar? Because Lieberman announced: "The Israeli government never ratified the Annapolis accord."
Ahem. Actually, the cabinet did endorse Annapolis, on December 2, 2007. Ehud Olmert sold it to his colleagues with the argument that the negotiations would not be constrained by any deadline, and with the promise that if an agreement was reached, it would be implemented only after the Palestinians halted all violence. Privately, prior to the cabinet's endorsement, Olmert briefed Lieberman; who then absented himself from the vote.
BUT THE thing is, Annapolis is dead - just as Lieberman so undiplomatically stated. And everyone knows it. It died when Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei rejected Olmert's and Tzipi Livni's offer last year of virtually the entire West Bank (the Palestinians already have Gaza), plus tracts of the Negev to make up for strategic settlement blocs retained beyond the Green Line.
Olmert and Livni proffered international stewardship for the holy places, and were prepared to turn over east Jerusalem. A tunnel or bridge would connect east and west "Palestine," providing contiguity between the West Bank and Gaza.
The Kadima government balked only at a total pullback to the 1949 Armistice Lines, and on granting millions of Palestinian "refugees" the right to "return" to a truncated Israel - something that would demographically smother our Jewish population.
In other words, had the Palestinians taken Olmert's and Livni's astonishingly magnanimous deal, "Palestine" would have become the 22nd Muslim Arab state in the Middle East.
Still, the petulant way Lieberman made his Annapolis announcement detracted from the substance of what Israel's argument should be. Had he handled himself more adroitly, the next day's headlines might have read: "New Government Embraces Road Map." For Lieberman did pledge a total commitment to what is officially known as a "Performance-Based Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict."
The Annapolis process was a stab at leapfrogging over the road map because the Palestinians could not - or would not - fulfill their obligation to end the violence. And the international community preferred the illusion of momentum Annapolis provided. The alternative would have been to concede that even "moderate" Palestinians are not prepared follow through on the hard work necessary to achieve a two-state solution.
Lieberman is convinced that all the sweet talk from Olmert and Livni got Israel precisely nowhere. Yet, significantly, the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak government is committed to achieving a Palestinian state via the road map. What now needs to be worked out is whether the Palestinians remain committed, and whether the steps to implement the road map must be taken sequentially (the Israeli view), or in some other undefined fashion (the Palestinian view).
The road map stipulates that,"A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and are willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty, and through Israel's readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established…"
That would require Israel to freeze settlements and dismantle those established since February 2001.
This is what Lieberman supports. What could be clearer?
THE Lieberman flap comes as Israel buries another victim of Palestinian terror, 16-year-old Shlomo Nativ, who was hacked to death on Thursday in Bat Ayin, a settlement southwest of Jerusalem. It is this kind of Palestinian brutality - combined with diplomatic obduracy - that keeps the road map grounded.
By talking tough instead of talking smart, Lieberman claimed he won "respect." In fact, he handed an unnecessary win to those who misrepresent Israel's stance by arguing that it is blocking the creation of a Palestinian state.
This was an inept performance by our novice foreign minister, no question. Nevertheless, Annapolis has become just another footnote in the 100-year history of Palestinian rejectionism.