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Fade to Irrelevance

All year, the Forward is publishing a series entitled “Imagining Two States for Two Peoples,” using news stories, opinion columns, essays and detailed maps to engage our readers in the pressing challenge of securing Israel’s future while acknowledging Palestinian national aspirations. Another installment appears on the Forum page this week.

Since advocating for a “two-state solution” is the official policy in Israel, the United States, the Palestinian Authority, and among the nations known as the Quartet, the recent pronouncement by Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman caught our notice. In a piece published June 23 in the Jerusalem Post, Lieberman, who is also the deputy prime minister, laid out what he said was a “lasting and fair solution” — one that could only be accomplished through an exchange of populated territories to create two largely homogeneous states.

This idea is not new for Lieberman, and after more than a year in office, he might have spelled out more clearly what he means. Somehow this population transfer would entail little actual movement of people or demolition of communities because borders will be drawn “where none existed.” And Palestinians now living in Israel — some of whom Lieberman describes as out to destroy the Jewish State — would be stripped of their citizenship, and instead become citizens of the new, demilitarized Palestinian state, wherever it is.

He rejects the 1967 borders, and the “so-called” Palestinian right of return. As for a timetable, he warned that setting artificial limits “will not help.” Curiously, there is no mention of Jerusalem.

It is difficult to discern what’s in this plan for the Palestinians, especially because, a few days later, Lieberman said there was “no chance” that their state could be established by 2012, the stated goal of Palestinian leaders and of the Quartet.

But then, maybe, what he says and publishes is irrelevant. As our Nathan Guttman details this week, Lieberman’s role as chief foreign diplomat and number two in the Netanyahu administration has been eclipsed by the work of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. It is Barak, not Lieberman, who hobnobs with top Obama officials in Washington. It is Barak, not Lieberman, who will be meeting again with Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister.

And it is Barak who is voicing the necessary sense of urgency in seeking to push along a peace process that would likely go nowhere if Lieberman had his way. Whatever his official title, the moniker of “irrelevant” suits him best.

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