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(Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed ) Aboul-Gheit : I won't shake Lieberman's hand

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  • Paul
    The Jerusalem Post Apr 3, 2009 0:15 | Updated Apr 3, 2009 0:53 Gheit: I won t shake Lieberman s hand By HERB KEINON
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 3, 2009
      The Jerusalem Post
      Apr 3, 2009 0:15 | Updated Apr 3, 2009 0:53
      Gheit: I won't shake Lieberman's hand


      Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's diplomatic bombshell Wednesday that
      Israel was no longer obligated by the Annapolis process, but was
      committed to the road map, was followed by silence on Thursday as
      neither Lieberman nor Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office issued
      directives to Israeli diplomats about how to explain the new policy abroad.

      Egypt, meanwhile, responded negatively to Lieberman's obvious attempt to
      mend his relations with Cairo, with the Egyptian Foreign Ministry
      issuing a statement that Egypt "did not need any party to recognize its
      position or role, especially from those who have previously attacked it."

      Lieberman said during his speech at the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday
      that Egypt was an important country in the Arab world and a key factor
      in maintaining regional stability. In the past, he had harshly
      criticized Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for refusing to visit
      Israel, and once said Israel could attack the Aswan Dam in case of a
      future war with Egypt.

      The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that Lieberman's comments regarding
      the Annapolis process were unfortunate and constituted "the first
      setback for the peace efforts on behalf of the new Israeli government."

      The statement said Egypt was interested in seeing what impact these
      comments would have on the EU and the US, and that the new Israeli
      government "obviously does not intend to pursue peace."

      Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said he would not shake
      Lieberman's hand until he retracted previous statements such as the
      threat to blow up the Aswan Dam and the remark that Mubarak could "go to
      hell" if he didn't want to visit Israel.

      "As long as Lieberman's positions stay the same, if we see each other by
      chance at a meeting, I will keep my hands in my pockets," Aboul-Gheit
      said in an interview taped on Thursday morning for Al-Mehwar
      television's 48 Hours talk show.

      "The Egyptian foreign minister must uphold the dignity of Egypt,"
      Aboul-Gheit said. "Whoever insults the dignity of Egypt must face the
      consequences and accept responsibility for his words."

      He continued, "I have met with more than one Israeli foreign minister,
      and I have welcomed them in Egypt. But never before has any of them said
      anything like what [Lieberman] said against Egypt."

      The Prime Minister's Office remained completely silent about Lieberman's
      comments on Thursday, neither confirming that his words reflected the
      government's new policies, nor distancing itself from them.

      Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev, when asked about Lieberman's speech,
      repeated verbatim from Netanyahu's speech the day before in the Knesset
      that his new government was committed to peace with the Palestinians and
      did not want to rule over them.

      Without any clear directives from the top, the ministry translated the
      bulk of the foreign minister's speech and sent it to the country's
      delegations abroad, along with explanatory material on the road map and
      other documents to which Lieberman said Israel was committed, such as
      the road map's accompanying Tenet and Zinni documents.

      One diplomatic official said that the speech pretty much stood on its
      own, and there was no real need to explain it further.

      While the government's spokespeople were stressing Thursday in
      conversations with journalists that Lieberman's acceptance of the road
      map meant acceptance of a two-state solution, since that's where the
      road map leads, there was some frustration over Lieberman's and
      Netanyahu's refusal to voice that acceptance explicitly.

      "If this is what Lieberman means, that after all the conditions of the
      road map are met - even if it is 100 years down the line - that he would
      accept two states, then why not come out and say it?" one government
      official said. "Why not just say the words 'two states'? It would make
      the government's diplomatic position that much easier."

      The officials said that there had been few, if any, calls to the
      ministry from foreign embassies asking for clarifications of Lieberman's

      That didn't mean, however, there were no reactions.

      Arab League chief Amr Moussa - a virulent critic of Israel since his
      days as Egypt's foreign minister - was quoted by Reuters as telling
      reporters in Cairo, "In my opinion the previous government of Israel did
      not honor the understandings on which the Annapolis conference and
      process was based... What the new foreign minister in Israel is saying
      is putting that in a blunt, very aggressive way."

      He added that "the new style of talking is just a new style. It does not
      initiate a new position. We know the Israeli position is negative when
      it comes to peace, when it comes to initiatives of peace."

      Opposition leader and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, meanwhile,
      called on Netanyahu to distance himself completely from Lieberman's
      comments. Livni told Army Radio that Lieberman "showed the world that we
      are not a partner [for peace]."

      She said Israel was always complaining that there was no partner for
      peace on the Palestinian side, but that Lieberman's position would in
      fact make the international community perceive Israel as the main obstacle.

      Amid all the controversy, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called
      Lieberman on Thursday to congratulate him on taking office, and the two
      said they would meet in the near future.

      Lieberman also spoke with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana after
      taking office, as well as with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini
      and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos.

      Meanwhile, with the US Congress on its Easter recess, no fewer than four
      US congressional delegations are scheduled to arrive in Israel next week
      for their first meetings with Netanyahu and other key members of his

      One of those delegations - headed by Massachusetts Democrat Stephen
      Lynch of the House Committee on Financial Services and chairman of the
      bipartisan Task Force on Terrorism and Proliferation Financing - will be
      going both to Syria and to the Gaza Strip.

      The other delegations will be headed by Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher
      of California, chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces;
      Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell; and Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey
      of New York, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee
      subcommittee on state, foreign operations and related programs.

      The American Jewish lobby group J Street released a YouTube video
      Thursday, criticizing Lieberman for his views on Arabs and other
      minorities, and urged American Jews to make clear their opposition to
      his positions.

      The minute-and-a-half video presents some of Lieberman's "incendiary and
      racist" comments, in the words of the narrator. They're followed by both
      critiques of the new foreign minister by some American Jewish leaders
      and conciliatory comments by others, including Independent Connecticut
      Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who are described as "whitewashing what Lieberman
      stands for." Viewers are then urged to "stand up for our shared belief
      in democracy and equality."

      "The purpose is to make clear that the values and the proposals and the
      principles that he's campaigned on and stands for are out of touch with
      the values and principles of a large number of American Jews," J Street
      executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami said of the video, describing those
      values as ones that seek inclusion and equality for minorities after so
      many years of suffering as the minority in society themselves.

      He argued that open discussion on these and other controversial topics
      was in the best interests of American Jewry, while those who "tried to
      make acceptable positions which aren't acceptable" did a disservice to
      the community.

      Brenda Gazzar and Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.
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