Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has called on the Middle East peacemaking Quartet to force elections on Palestinians in a bid to oust president Mahmud Abbas and revitalise the dormant peace process.
In a letter sent on Tuesday to the Quartet's top diplomats, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, Lieberman said that Abbas "apparently is uninterested or unable... to reach an agreement which would bring an end to the conflict."
"The time has come to consider a creative solution, to think 'outside the box,' in order to strengthen the Palestinian leadership," wrote Lieberman.
"General elections in the PA (Palestinian Authority) should be held, and a new, legitimate, hopefully realistic Palestinian leadership should be elected."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office rushed to distance itself from any attempt to dictate the Palestinians' electoral timetable.
"The letter of the foreign minister does not represent the opinion of the prime minister or the government," an official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"We continue to work with the Palestinian leadership to restart the dialogue and of course Israel will not interfere in internal Palestinian politics," he said.
Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since September 2010 following an intractable dispute over settlements, and Quartet efforts to bring the two sides closer together have so far led nowhere.
In the letter, Lieberman said Israel had made "several significant gestures" to the PA, including efforts to boost its economy, an agreement to employ more Palestinian construction workers in Israel and reducing the number of roadblocks in the West Bank.
"Unfortunately, despite these steps, we do not see any willingness or positive attitude on the part of the PA," Lieberman wrote to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
To Lieberman, the standstill in talks could be resolved through the "creative solution" of internal Palestinian elections.
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"In his deeds and his behaviour, Abbas does not represent the general Palestinian interest," he wrote.
"Despite Abbas' delays, general elections in the PA should be held, and a new, legitimate, hopefully realistic Palestinian leadership should be elected," Lieberman stated, noting that "PA elections were due to be held in 2010 and have since been postponed several times."
Abbas spokesman spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah condemned the letter as "inflammatory" and said that it showed that Lieberman was himself isolated from the political mainstream.
"He is politically bankrupt," Abu Rudeinah said in a statement."Lieberman’s statements do not contribute to creating an environment of peace."
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat accused Lieberman of "incitement to murder."
"We severely condemn Lieberman's statements and hold the Israeli government fully responsibility for the life and well-being of president Abbas," he told AFP.
"These statements constitute a clear incitement to murder and are similar to the campaign that was launched by former Israeli premier Sharon against late president Yasser Arafat that ended in his murder," he said.
Erakat noted he had contacted the Quartet to stop the "smear campaign" against Abbas, and denied Lieberman's claim that the Palestinian president was preventing elections.
"The Quartet knows president Abbas wants to end division through Palestinian presidential and legislative elections," he said.
In April 2011, Abbas' ruling Fatah party signed a reconciliation deal with its Hamas rivals who govern Gaza in a move aimed at ending years of rivalry.
But the deal was never implemented, with the factions falling out over plans to set up a caretaker cabinet of independents which was to have prepared the way for presidential and legislative elections within a year.