Israel showed the international community on Tuesday that the country is ruled by a circus, not a responsible government with a policy. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the representatives of the world's nations from the UN podium that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is spreading illusions and silly talk about peace. There is no chance for a permanent settlement for a generation, Lieberman said, and it is necessary to "exchange" populated areas and adjust the state to its correct size. Or, in less diplomatic English, the Arab citizens of Israel must be expelled to the Palestinian side of the border.
During the past few weeks, Netanyahu invested a great deal of effort in trying to convince the leaders of the world that he is serious about peace with the Palestinians. He asked them to ignore the resumption of settlement construction, and convinced Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not to quit the negotiations.
Now comes Lieberman, Israel's most senior diplomat, and tells all those leaders that it's all crap, that Netanyahu is faking. Even worse: the foreign minister is implying that Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is merely cover for the expulsion of Arab citizens. A speech by the foreign minister of a country that is given before the United Nations is supposed to reflect the official policy of the government, not just the private views of the chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party.
Netanyahu heard the speech and behaved like a weakling. He should have rid the Foreign Ministry of Lieberman a long time ago because of the damage he has caused to Israel's international standing. Netanyahu got the chance Tuesday; Lieberman challenged him and made him out to be a liar, in front of the whole world.
Lieberman was asking to be fired, and what did Netanyahu do? He issued a statement to the press saying he hadn't been shown the speech in advance but failing to criticize its content or style. As such, Netanyahu has suggested that ministers can say whatever they want, and that he does not oppose Lieberman's position.
Ariel Sharon would have immediately dismissed Lieberman and would make him choose whether he is for or against the government. Sharon would have created a political crisis from an advantageous position and forced Lieberman to crawl back and beg for his position, or get out of the coalition. But Netanyahu is not built for such courageous decisions.
The foreign minister made it clear Tuesday that his political partnership with Netanyahu is coming to an end. Lieberman will not back the peace process, which he considers unnecessary and damaging.
If Netanyahu is going to be negotiating with Abbas, he will have to replace Lieberman with Tzipi Livni, and Yisrael Beiteinu with Kadima. There is no longer any logic in her staying in opposition now that negotiations with the Palestinians have resumed. Until that happens, the circus continues.
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