Netanyahu's Two-state Comments Should Not Be Taken Lightly

Can the prime minister go back on his new peace pledge when next to him stands Lieberman, the man whose slogan is 'a promise is a promise'?

Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram
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Incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, May 26, 2016.Credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO
Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the same room with “strong” people like former prime ministers Ariel Sharon or Ehud Barak, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he immediately turns into No. 2. He is like that, overshadowed by dominant people.

This perception is based on conversations with ministers and heads of the security services who have felt Netanyahu’s tendency to develop dependence on the dominant person in the room.

The story of Lieberman’s appointment as defense minister is one of the most baseless in our crazy political experience. Netanyahu has known ever since he established his government that appointing Lieberman as defense minister would strengthen his weak coalition in the Knesset, but he did not do so. Lieberman remained outside, vexing him, disparaging him and calling him derogatory names. Netanyahu responded clumsily.

Lieberman knows Netanyahu well. He knew that if he kept at it, stamped his foot and was intent on the Defense Ministry, all the derogatory names in the world would not be held against him. That’s the way the prime minister is: pragmatic to no avail and a serial forgiver of humiliation.

After all the moral debasement the country has gone through with his appointment as defense minister, Lieberman reached the prime minister’s circle as the dominant man who can enable Netanyahu to make statements he had shelved years ago. Clearly the statements they both made in support of a two-state solution and about the positive elements in the Arab peace plan were meant to calm Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi and governments worldwide that were fuming over Lieberman’s appointment.

Netanyahu could have made the two-state speech any day over the past year, at least to ease international pressure. But he had been in fear of Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Likud Minister Zeev Elkin. Now, with Lieberman presenting himself as an enthusiastic supporter of the two-state solution, which Netanyahu raised in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, it allows Netanyahu to say things that might fall on attentive ears abroad.

True, Netanyahu makes a mockery of everyone and can change course in a minute. We saw this in Isaac Herzog’s misbegotten negotiations, in which the prime minister pledged to take diplomatic steps and then backtracked without batting an eye. But his statements about the two-state solution and the Arab peace initiative were made in public and so they should not be taken lightly. Will he be able to get out of them when next to him stands the man whose slogan in the past was “a promise is a promise”?

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said recently that Netanyahu does not talk to foreign statesmen about a two-state solution, but only about our right to the land. One wonders what she is thinking about his statements now. And what will Bennett and his colleagues do; they, whose entire existence is dedicated to “saving lives” – that is, preventing land from being handed over? Or do the Elkin types think Netanyahu’s declarations are worthless, because he has never held to them before?

And so I reiterate: The statements Netanyahu and Lieberman made should not be taken lightly, because Netanyahu now has no reason to reject the French peace initiative. The prime minister and defense minister can take part in the peace conference, and thus weaken Netanyahu’s fear of President Barack Obama’s vengeance. And I suggest that these the statements not be discounted for another reason: “Big Brother” Lieberman might balance out Netanyahu’s moderate words with appropriately extreme security responses. You have been warned.

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