Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman opted to conclude last week's conference of Israeli ambassadors at the Foreign Ministry by chastising the 150 or so diplomats on Thursday for what he described as their tendency to overly placate their host nations.
Lieberman, who opened the conference last Sunday with a tirade against Turkey, the Palestinians and European countries, concluded it by reprimanding Israeli diplomats. "I have seen that some ambassadors identify themselves with the other side to such an extent that they are all the time trying to justify and explain [the position of the other side]," Lieberman told the shocked audience.
The problem with Israeli diplomacy over the years, Lieberman argued, is that it does not do enough to preserve the honor of the State of Israel.
"Terms like 'national honor' have value in the Middle East," the foreign minister pointed out. "There is no need to provoke or exaggerate, but there must not be an attitude of obsequiousness and self-deprecation, and the need to always justify the other side. This is a wrong approach," Lieberman said.
"We will not seek reasons for confrontation and friction, but we will not turn the other cheek," Lieberman said. "There will be a response to everything. This is the policy I want the ambassadors [to implement]. The era of groveling is over. We must be on good terms and respect the host nations, but we will not tolerate insults and challenges."
Lieberman addressed the forum of ambassadors for about 20 minutes, but no opportunity to ask questions or comment was given to the diplomats. A senior source at the Foreign Ministry said that some of the ambassadors who had expressed frustration with Lieberman in private earlier this week, and had said that they intended to confront Lieberman and "tell him precisely what they think," did not get a chance.
"During this entire conference there was not even a single panel in which it was possible to hold a direct and frank dialogue with the foreign minister," one of the ambassadors said. "The prime minister one can ask questions, Minister [Dan] Meridor one can ask questions, and even the head of the Shin Bet it is possible to ask questions. Only from the foreign minister we received a monologue without being able to hold a discussion."
Many ambassadors also expressed their sense of confusion at the conflicting messages relayed to them by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lieberman. At the opening to the conference Lieberman stressed that the Palestinian Authority were "a bunch of terrorists," adding that there is no chance of reaching peace with the Palestinians in the coming 20 years.
The following day, Netanyahu delivered a different message, with Lieberman watching on. Netanyahu said that the conditions for resuming negotiations with the Palestinians are reaching maturation, and spoke favorably of the need to reach a peace agreement and establish a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside a Jewish State of Israel.
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