Here is Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: "[Regarding the possibility of peace -] not next year and not for the next generation." ... “However, there is no reason to be worried," Lieberman added. "I repeat: Abu Mazen will not fight us... The only practical solution is a long term interim agreement, on which we can debate. Our proposal is: No to unilateral concessions, no to continuing the settlement freeze, yes to serious negotiations and mutual gestures of good faith."
In his remarks, FM Lieberman is notably at odds with those of his Prime Minister, who, professedly at least, sees great potential for a final status peace agreement with the Palestinians. In the United States, and in many countries around the world, a nation’s foreign policy is understood to be formulated and executed by the state’s head of government, whether that be the Prime Minister or the President. To be sure, Secretaries of State and Foreign Ministers play a vital role in the shaping and execution of foreign policy, but it’s understood that when push comes to shove, a country’s foreign policy is that of its head of government. If the foreign minister disagrees, he either keeps that to himself, or he gets out of government. It is virtually unheard of for a country’s chief diplomat to criticize foreign policy from the sidelines.
In Israel, however, things work much more stupidly. Because of electoral pressures, PM Netanyahu has a foreign minister he can’t let anywhere near foreign policy. Whenever Lieberman gets involved in diplomatic affairs, a scandal erupts. He says impolitic things, yells at ambassadors, and presents positions contrary to those of his government. Thus, in all manners of consequence, Netanyahu is Israel’s foreign minister, while Lieberman retains the title and a good deal of the bureaucracy. This is unsustainable, however.
Ill-informed observers will naturally assume that FM Lieberman speaks for his government on foreign affairs. It’s his title, his job. When Netanyahu says one thing, and Lieberman says another, people will assume that the government of Israel is unsure, or ambivalent about its policies. Some may assume that there is some sort of subterfuge at work. Perhaps Netanyahu is telling the West what is wants to hear, and Lieberman is telling the truth?
The Israeli government often speaks of the importance of hasbarah, of making its case persuasively to the world. This focus is echoed by many pro-Israel groups. But how can people be expected to take Israel seriously when its own government can’t get its mouthpieces in line? You think the world is biased and distrusts Israel? Your own foreign minister, the head of your Foreign Affairs Ministry, is busy making anti-Israel propaganda for your enemies!
Think for a moment how damaging Lieberman’s remarks are. While Obama is running around the world, moving heaven and earth to get negotiations started, and Netanyahu is doing his best to at least sound eager and willing to negotiate, Israel’s foreign minister is rhetorically dooming the talks to failure before they have even begun in earnest. Not just these talks. But any talks that happen in this generation. In other words, no peace now, and no peace for the foreseeable future. Hey, Intifada III, are you listening? Lieberman is essentially telling every pissed-off Palestinian (of which we can assume there are many) that Israel is not giving Palestine any independence for the next 25 years or so, at least. So, hey, start up again with the murder and mayhem, because you’ve got nothing to lose.
And then, he has the audacity to mock PA President Mahmoud Abbas, saying that “Abu Mazen will not fight us” and there is no reason to worry about not negotiating for the next generation or so. Can you think of any statement more calculated to ensure a third Intifada? The entire underlying rationale of the modern PA’s nonviolent approach to independence is based on the premise that negotiations will yield fruit quicker and better than violence. The competing counterpoint, popular amongst the militants and fundamentalists, is that Israel is only pressured to make concessions when it is paying in blood. Here, Lieberman is taking sides with the fundamentalists! He’s basically saying, hey no violence, no need to make a deal.
The more I think about it, the more obvious it appears that Lieberman is actively trying to sabotage the talks. Which is awful, obviously, but everyone’s got the right of free speech. No, the real problem is that he’s doing this as Israel’s Foreign Minister. Some hot-headed Palestinian youths reading his remarks in the paper are going to think he speaks for the State, and people may die. This is serious. Lieberman has got to go.