We've seen enough thrillers to know the good cop, bad cop principle. The good cop is not necessarily good, and the bad one isn't necessarily bad. It's a role-playing tactic intended to break a witness or suspect in the course of interrogation. Avigdor Lieberman's performance at the foreign minister's handover ceremony looked menacing, a little because of what he said and a little because of his demeanor.
His credo did not exactly fit what is currently expected of an Israeli foreign minister. He does not recognize the Annapolis process, and he objects to territorial concessions. Add to that his telling Hosni Mubarak to go to hell and threatening to bomb Egypt's Aswan Dam, and you ask yourself: Is this the new government's position? And was his announcement coordinated with Benjamin Netanyahu?
It's hard to answer that unequivocally on the basis of Bibi's statements. Bibi, you see, said his government is bound by all the previous government's commitments, including Annapolis and the road map. Are the contradictory declarations coordinated? If not, why doesn't the prime minister call Lieberman to order and make it clear to him that he is doing Israel great damage? And if Bibi keeps mum, is that a sign he agrees with Lieberman, or worse, he's afraid of him?
At a certain stage Bibi and his cabinet will have to make a decision on the Syrian issue as well, for it is undoubtedly in our interest to remove Syria from the axis of evil. But according to what Lieberman says, this arrangement will be achieved without giving up the Golan. This is not the message Bibi conveyed to the American president's envoy, George Mitchell. So where does the truth lie?
If the contradictory statements are coordinated, starting out this way does not indicate decency or wisdom. If Bibi doesn't call Lieberman to order, he will seriously impair his status as a responsible prime minister, who does not want to repeat the mistakes he made during his previous term as PM.
"He who wants peace must prepare for war," Lieberman proudly cited a famous Roman epigram. Ehud Barak did well to finally break his vow of silence and criticize Lieberman's statement.
It is very important that this government not be clever to the point that the Americans start showing their claws. We have been known to misinterpret their manners. When the White House spokesman talks about "open talks" with the president, he means deep controversy. On more than one occasion I remember Menachem Begin coming out of a meeting with Jimmy Carter and announcing "we had excellent talks," while the White House made it clear to the Israeli reporters accompanying the prime minister that the expression "open talks" meant the opposite of Begin's interpretation.
When we make them angry, for example, when we wanted to sell China reconnaissance and intelligence aircraft, we came very close to a rift. Those with good memories may remember with a shudder the sanctions Henry Kissinger imposed on us under the title "reevaluation," or the time secretary of state James Baker refused to meet our ambassador, Zalman Shoval, saying that if we had an answer, this was the White House's phone number.
Gone are the days when we boasted that Israel was a strategic weapon of the U.S. and even saw ourselves, without blushing, as America's frontline aircraft carrier in the region. It's not that we've become a burden, but the Obama administration expects much more of us if it is to create a bloc of moderate Muslim states.
These days, when Obama has a majority in Congress and the world's eyes are on him, we cannot pressure him using our power hubs in Washington. The Jewish lobby has lost much of its strength in the current administration. And if we don't accept the principle of two states for two peoples, even Netanyahu's close ties with the evangelists and neoconservatives, who have lost their power and influence with this administration, won't help.
Lieberman puts a question mark on Israel's commitment to peace and could lead the Obama administration to show its claws.
No doubt Bibi made a mistake in not forming a coalition with Kadima and Labor, leaving Lieberman outside. Instead he got a bull in a china shop and a foreign minister being investigated on suspicions of fraud and money laundering. Netanyahu will prove he has changed when he dares to put Lieberman in his place.
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