Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (right) greets US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) ahead of their meeting in Jerusalem.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (right) greets US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) ahead of their meeting in Jerusalem. Photo: AFP

London: Avigdor Lieberman, the hawkish Israeli foreign minister widely regarded as a major obstacle to peace with the Palestinians, has urged his country to accept the deal currently being brokered by Washington as the best offer it will ever receive.

In a change of direction likely to surprise the Middle Eastern diplomatic scene, Mr Lieberman said that US Secretary of State John Kerry deserved praise and thanks for his efforts to bridge gaps between the Israelis and Palestinians.

"It's the best proposal we can get and we really appreciate the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry. He has really put a lot of energy into the issue," Mr Lieberman told Britain's  Daily Telegraph.

Analysts said that Mr Lieberman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been encouraged by Washington's reported willingness to consider an Israeli security force in the Jordan Valley, where the occupied West Bank borders Jordan.

Mr Kerry is also said to have agreed that the Palestinians should recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Both of these proposals have, however, been bitterly resisted by Palestinian negotiators for years. They have argued that Israel's internal character is a matter for its own citizens - including over a million Palestinian Arabs - and that any force in the Jordan valley should be international and not Israeli, as this would merely perpetuate an occupation that has already lasted more than 45 years.

In his first major interview since returning to office in November, when he was acquitted of corruption charges that had dogged his career for years, Mr Lieberman said it was “crucial” for Israelis to maintain contact with Palestinians, no matter how limited the prospects of success.

Absent, for now, is the firebrand politician who said that Gaza should be treated like Chechnya and who called for the execution of Arab Israeli MPs who had met members of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

However Mr Lieberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement, remains unrepentant about Israel’s right to expand its settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law.

In Israel, Mr Lieberman’s apparent shift towards the centre will be seen as a bid to succeed Mr Netanyahu as prime minister.

Mr Netanyahu has no obvious successor within his Likud party, which Mr Lieberman was a rising star of before forming Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Is Our Home), a secular right-wing party aimed at capturing the votes of the growing Soviet immigrant community, in 1999.

The two parties worked together in last year’s election, and Mr Lieberman’s is now the second largest in the Knesset.

Asked if he would like the top job one day, the 55-year-old was reasonable to the end. “It’s speculation. It’s too early. In Israel politics, four years is like 400 years in Europe,” he said, with a handshake and a smile.

Telegraph, London