The Americans have long been intrigued by Avigdor Lieberman. They meet with him from time to time, at various levels, and he is frequently mentioned in WikiLeaks documents, some of which are being quoted here today.
One of the more fascinating documents dealing with Lieberman was drawn up by Ambassador Richard Jones, following a meeting they held in late October 2006. The meeting, in Lieberman’s office in the Knesset, took place a day before he dramatically and unexpectedly joined the government of Ehud Olmert, which was licking its wounds after the Second Lebanon War.
“Avigdor Lieberman’s small parliamentary office barely contained the smoke from his Tip O’Neill-esque cigar, which he politely snuffed out before the meeting,” the ambassador wrote. The meeting had been arranged long in advance, the ambassador noted, and Lieberman did not cancel it, although he was at the center of much political and media frenzy. The envoy went on to quote what he heard from Lieberman: He described Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as “weak and corrupted, and no longer relevant” and suggested that the United States and Israel find a more suitable partner for dialogue in the PA leadership. His candidate: Mohammed Rashid, “although he is no Woodrow Wilson.”
Rashid was the economic adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the manager of his European bank accounts. He also maintained, and perhaps still maintains, business ties with the Austrian millionaire Schlaff, who is on very close terms with Lieberman. Past reports have linked business affairs with Schlaff’s, and Rashid is sometimes also mentioned in the background. The former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, says in his book “Innocent Abroad” that Lieberman met with his buddy Rashid after Ehud Barak’s defeat at the hands of Ariel Sharon in the 2001 elections, and proposed far-reaching political concessions.
According to Jones’ cable, Lieberman told him that he decided to join the government in order to provide Olmert with stability and enable him to rehabilitate Israel’s security without having to fear for his government’s survival. He admitted to the ambassador that the information he relies on comes mainly from the media, so it was not full and complete.
In the conversation with Jones, Lieberman was critical of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak “for being fixated on the political future of his son rather than serious national security challenges.” He added that “Egypt may collapse in 15-20 years and become a really radical country.”
A second warning he issued was not realized. “We have two years to resolve the situation in the West Bank,” Lieberman cautioned. “Otherwise, in his view,” the ambassador clarified, “the situation there will become like Gaza.”
Pulling the plug
In the spring of 2009, Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, was perceived as a strongman: Without him, it’s unlikely that Ehud Barak would have succeeded in leading the Labor Party into the nascent Netanyahu government. In discussions held immediately after the government’s formation regarding the first two-year budget, Eini conducted his business in the Prime Minister’s Office. He bypassed Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and held tough negotiations with Netanyahu, as the threat of Labor leaving the government hovered above. At the end of the process, Netanyahu acceded to most of the labor leader’s demands.
Eini’s performance caught the eye of the American ambassador, who met with him in the midst of the budget discussions. The ambassador made the following report to the State Department: “Eini, whose efforts were pivotal in bringing Labor into the government, views himself as a key power broker. He told the ambassador on May 6 that his approval of the government’s economic plan and budget is the ‘kosher seal’ that will assure Netanyahu has support from Labor and among the workers and pensioners. Eini added that he was scheduled to meet with Barak later in the day and would tell him that if the government does not deal with Eini seriously, he would ‘pull the plug’ and Labor would leave the coalition. Eini felt that Labor would be followed by Shas, which he said would not be able to accept a budget he has rejected.”
Less than two years after that cable was sent, Barak split the Labor Party, forced the resignation of its ministers from the Netanyahu government and overnight stripped Eini of all his political clout.
In November 2009, Netanyahu met with a group of Congressmen. In the course of a frank conversation with them, he told a joke: “What is the difference between on and off the record in Israel? Two weeks.” The author of the cable added this: “He said there has been an exception: his inner cabinet does not leak.”
In the meeting, Netanyahu complained about Mahmoud Abbas. “The PM said that Abbas was sulking and that sulking ‘is not good policy,’” according to the cable, which also said: The premier also accused the Palestinians of exploiting “the stereotype that Netanyahu is a peace obstructionist,” even though he had moved considerably toward them. The premier mentioned “three specific steps that he had taken in the seven months that he had been in office,” and elaborated, it was written: “1. He endorsed the two-state solution in his speech at Bar-Ilan University; 2. he and his government have eliminated more roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank than have been removed since the Second Intifada; 3. his administration has taken unprecedented steps on restraining the growth of the settlements ... He said that the rate of construction was the ‘lowest it had been and they were willing to restrain further growth ... ‘[But] what have they [the Palestinians] done?’ he asked, and then answered himself: ‘Precondition upon precondition.’”
Eight months earlier, in the same office, Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, had met with a Congressional delegation. The meeting took place after the received the green light from the president to form a government. The embassy reported that Olmert informed American legislators that in indirect contacts he had held with Syrian President Bashar Assad, through the agency of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, Israel had discovered that Syria was becoming involved in “nasty things” and “dealt with it.”
The cable notes that Olmert was referring to the attack on the reactor in Syria in September 2007, but preferred to be “vague.” Olmert also talked about the negotiations he held with the Palestinians. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, he said, “’was a good manager but not a politician.’ Abbas had been elected by 62 percent of the Palestinians, so he had the authority, but he did not exercise it. Olmert said, however, that Abbas was not like Arafat. Arafat was a killer, but Abbas is ‘a pleasant guy.’ They had spent many hours together ‘in wonderful talks.’”
The Congressmen asked him what advice he could give Netanyahu. According to the cable, “Olmert declined to comment on what his advice to the next prime minister would be. Olmert said he did not want to embarrass Netanyahu. Bibi will offer his ideas to Abbas, Olmert said, but Abbas may tell him ‘to go to hell.’”
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