Cabinet steps back from Lieberman's outburst on Turkey

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak yesterday moved to countermand outspoken remarks by his Foreign Ministry colleague Avigdor Lieberman denouncing the Turkish government for "lies" and dismissing prospects of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Mr Barak called pointedly for a defusing of tensions with Turkey, caused by the deaths of nine of its nationals during the Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara in May.

And he insisted on the need for Israel and the Palestinians to resume their stalled negotiations.

In a calculatedly off-message speech to Israeli diplomats on Sunday night Mr Lieberman– who heads the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party – described Turkey's demand for an apology for the Mavi Mamara shootings as "beyond chutzpah".

And he declared his opposition to any peace deal with the "illegitimate" Palestinian Authority government, declaring that if it was offered territory that included Tel Aviv "they would find a reason not to sign a peace agreement".

Mr Lieberman took some of his senior officials aback by revealing that he was preparing an interim "Plan B" of his own for negotiations with the Palestinians and that full peace would only be reached when the gulf between their economy and Israel's had been closed.

As after a similar public breach with stated Israeli government policy in Mr Lieberman's speech to the UN General Assembly in September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to show his lack of will to fire him and put his right wing-dominated coalition at risk. He contented himself with a statement from his office, saying the remarks reflected Mr Lieberman's "own preparations and positions", and that government policy was "that voiced by [Mr] Netanyahu and manifested by cabinet resolutions". This prompted opposition leader Tzipi Livni to tell Army Radio: "Netanyahu is not prepared to break his ties with any of his natural partners because he is concerned with his personal future, not with the future of Israel.

"He might be making a wise political move, but we are all paying the price. If Lieberman revealed anything today, it is the real face of Netanyahu."

Mr Lieberman's remarks coincided with delicate efforts between the governments of both countries to achieve some form of reconciliation in the wake of the deep post-Mavi Marmara crisis, which resulted in Turkey withdrawing its ambassador. The talks have centred on possible compensation for the families of the Turks killed in the raid and Turkey's demand for an apology.

Mr Lieberman was partly reacting to a suggestion by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davotoglu that Israel would not have come as promptly to Turkey's aid as Turkey did to Israel's during this month's Carmel hills forest fire.

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