Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman took advantage of his appearance Sunday at a Foreign Ministry conference of Israeli ambassadors for one of his periodic horror shows. Lieberman, as is his habit, lashed out at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (whom he called a liar ), at the Palestinian Authority (which he called illegitimate ) and at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (whose assurances regarding a final peace agreement Lieberman described as unrealistic ). Netanyahu, as is his own habit, avoided a confrontation with his rebellious foreign minister and sufficed with a weak response, stating that Lieberman's comments reflect the foreign minister's personal assessments and positions, and not the government's position.
Netanyahu is making a mistake. Lieberman was not speaking at a party conference or a meeting of his Yisrael Beiteinu faction. He made the comments in front of Israel's 170 senior diplomats. His audience is supposed to represent the country in the world's capitals.
Now they are in a bind. Should they present foreign governments with the "personal positions" of the minister to whom they report or the "government's position" as expressed by Netanyahu? Should they describe the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, as a welcome partner for peace or as a dictator who lost elections and is in power illegally? Should the contacts over improving relations with Turkey be described as a welcome development or should the Turks be vilified?
If Netanyahu expects to be taken seriously and his contention that he and only he expresses the government's position is to be accepted, he must dismiss Lieberman immediately. Israel is in need of a foreign minister to represent it before the international community rather than an oppositionist figure competing in the guise of a diplomat for the leadership of the Israeli right wing.
Netanyahu has been warning of the dangers of the delegitimization of Israel abroad, but he is refraining from the first step necessary to improve the country's image: the appointment of a foreign minister suitable for the position. Lieberman and his pronouncements only provide vindication to Israel's adversaries.
There is another possibility, however, and that is that Lieberman is right and the current government cannot present a plan for a final peace agreement with the Palestinians out of concern that the coalition will immediately break up. Lieberman says that Netanyahu cannot make good on his commitment to two states for two peoples, and has no chance of achieving a diplomatic breakthrough. If that is the case, Netanyahu should either reconfigure his coalition or go to new elections.
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