Veteran Diplomat's Rebuke of Netanyahu, Lieberman Strikes Chord With Colleagues

Ilan Baruch sensed an initial warning sign the day Lieberman took office as foreign minister and gave a speech in which he rejected the possibility of peace with the Palestinians.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Several Israeli diplomats said they identified with the farewell letter written by their colleague Ilan Baruch to the Foreign Ministry staff this week, in which he said he felt he could not longer represent the government's policy.

However, most diplomats will not go public with their criticism for fear it will harm their careers.

Baruch, who served as ambassador to South Africa until about 18 months ago, and who has taken early retirement, wrote the letter on Tuesday, his last day at the Foreign Ministry. In it, he said: "Over the past two years the political and diplomatic messages by the state's leaders, which have grown more pointed, have infuriated me and given me no rest. I find it difficult to represent them and explain them honestly."

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's bureau yesterday rejected the contents of the letter, adding that Baruch had applied for the post of ambassador to Cairo a year ago, but was passed over.

Ilan Baruch.Credit: Guy Raivitz

"Ilan Baruch's statements are ridiculous in light of the fact that Cairo is one of the capitals in which the presentation of the policies of Israel's government is most important," a source in Lieberman's bureau said. "This proves that he left because he did not get the appointment. He has been in negotiations for six months over the conditions of his retirement," the source added.

"I'm not going to start a campaign and I'm not calling on my colleagues to do what I did," Baruch told Haaretz. "I felt I could not represent the government and so I retired. After my retirement, having ended my position as a state employee, I expressed my feelings."

Baruch does not deny having applied for the ambassadorial post in Cairo. "I hoped at the time that things would change and the peace process would start again, but that has not happened. In the end, a more suitable person than I was appointed to Cairo, who is doing good work," he said.

Baruch said there is a great deal of frustration brimming below the surface at the Foreign Ministry. He also said he started thinking about retiring back during Benjamin Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, when he headed the Palestinian desk at the ministry.

"In the end I decided to stay and I went to the Philippines as ambassador. I have nothing personal against Netanyahu, but rather disagree with him on policy," Baruch said.

He sensed an initial warning sign, he added, the day Lieberman took office as foreign minister and gave a speech in which he rejected the possibility of peace with the Palestinians.

"Lieberman completely denied [Israel's] role in the failure of the peace process," Baruch said. "The outcome is not good and it is not only because of the Palestinians' conduct."

Foreign Ministry personnel in Israel and abroad are reportedly satisfied with the generous funding Lieberman has brought to the ministry and with the fact that he shares his diplomatic work with them and frequently asks the ambassadors for their advice. In contrast, the policies dictated by Lieberman and even more so, the lack of government policy on the peace process has frequently led to internal criticism, according to sources.

A number of senior Israeli ambassadors have made remarks similar to Baruch's over the past few months. "It has become impossible to explain Israel to others these days," one ambassador said. "There is no clear policy and it is very difficult to respond to international criticism."

Another ambassador said: "The diplomatic impasse is dangerous to the State of Israel, and it doesn't seem as if the prime minister has a solution in the form of a diplomatic initiative. Under such circumstances, the international community will simply force a solution on us."

Last year Lieberman told a group of ambassadors that "some ambassadors' identification with the other side [the Palestinian side] is so great that they want to justify and explain it all the time."

Baruch said yesterday: "A basic rule of diplomacy is to listen to both friends and opponents," adding that "over the past two years we have been finding every opportunity ... to turn someone into an opponent. We think the whole world is against us and we don't have to do an internal accounting. It's time we checked ourselves."



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