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Tawdry politician gets top position

A selection of the abundance of articles on the possibility of Lieberman being Israel’s foreign minister. Many think the appointment has much wider connections (it is the Foreign ministry)

1) Brookings: Reckless politicking: Lieberman to be named Israel’s defence minister, stern disapproval from US Brookings Institute, Egypt connection;
2) Haaretz: Israelis Will Pay Dearly for Their Prime Minister’s Reckless Appointment, angry editorial;
3) Al Monitor: Is new defence minister dangerous for Israel?, the real Yvet is more pragmatic than his cariature portrays;
4) MEMO: Israeli report: Abbas fearful of Dahlan’s relationship with Lieberman, Dahlan connection;
5) RT: Israeli PM under fire after proposing hawkish far-right leader Lieberman to head defence;

Caption to this 2013 photo from CBC news: Former foreign minister and head of the Yisrael Beitenu party Avigdor Lieberman with Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, says the issue of peacemaking with the Palestinians should be less of a priority than domestic issues. Photo by Nir Elias/Reuters

Reckless politicking: Lieberman to be named Israel’s defence minister

By Natan Sachs, Brookings blogs
May 20, 2016

On May 17, Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi did something Egyptian presidents have done many times before: he urged Israel and the Palestinians to renew negotiations for peace, this time by backing an international conference promoted by the French foreign minister.

But what made Sissi’s call particularly interesting is that he called on not just the leaders but also political “parties” to seize what he called “a real opportunity to find a long-awaited solution.” Sissi’s call offered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an opportunity to accommodate Israel’s newest best friend, Sissi, rather than the French themselves. It would not have brought peace, of course: though an international conference would offer a glimmer of hope to change some of the worst aspects of the current diplomatic deadlock, it would not solve any of the outstanding substantive issues between Israelis and Palestinians.

Sissi’s reference to political parties was no coincidence: it fit perfectly with the domestic political needs of Netanyahu and of Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog, who were angling to bring the Zionist Union joint list into the government and give Netanyahu a much-needed parliamentary cushion beyond his current razor-thin coalition.

Herzog first had to convince his own highly-reluctant party of the need to join its rival Netanyahu—and if peace was about to break out, how could they refuse? For about 48 hours it seemed like Herzog was indeed about to announce his decision to join the coalition, face the battle in his party, and become Israel’s foreign minister.

Then something else happened. Rather than appointing Herzog as foreign minister, Netanyahu is now poised to bring back Avigdor Lieberman, a former foreign minister and Israel’s least diplomatic politician. Lieberman won’t be returning to diplomacy, however. Instead, he will get a significantly more powerful position, second only to the prime minister: minister of defence. In response, current Minister of Defence Moshe Ya’alon today resigned from the cabinet and the Knesset, refusing to take another cabinet position. He gave a scathing speech, saying that “[E]xtremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement.”

In what can only be considered brilliant politicking—and reckless policy—Netanyahu jettisoned Ya’alon and Herzog in favor of his former associate and bitter personal rival, Lieberman.

In what can only be considered brilliant politicking—and reckless policy—Netanyahu jettisoned Ya’alon and Herzog in favour of his former associate and bitter personal rival, Lieberman. Herzog is left wounded and humiliated, played for a fool—the gravest sin in Israeli political culture.

Netanyahu finds himself at the helm of an enlarged coalition (Lieberman brings with him five members of Knesset, after one member of his faction left the party today in protest of the move), safer from parliamentary shocks and from attacks from the right (the whole right wing is now inside the coalition. Lieberman will still be likely to criticize Netanyahu from within the government, but not quite as fiercely).

A cynics’ cynic

Lieberman’s pending appointment has been met with astonishment by the opposition in Israel, by many in the military which he will oversee, and indeed here in Washington—and with good reason.

Just these past few months, Lieberman has viciously attacked both Netanyahu and the military brass for what he claimed was a weak response to terrorist attacks. In but one example of many, Lieberman came to the defence of a soldier who the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had decided to prosecute for killing a Palestinian assailant who had already been thoroughly subdued. The contrast to current Minister of Defence Moshe Ya’alon is striking: Ya’alon defended the military’s decision and stressed the importance of ethical norms and of rules of engagement in the military. Ya’alon is very right wing on the Palestinian issue, but he has consistently shown an honourable stance in the face of attacks on democratic norms.

Lieberman is ostensibly less right-wing on the Palestinian issue—sometimes. Though he is a settler himself, he has endorsed a two-state solution in very general theory, noting he would even move if peace necessitated it. His endorsement, however, has always been couched in the toughest language possible and in utter mistrust of Palestinian intentions or the chances of peace ever materializing. On the niceties of democratic norms, including military law, he is a cynics’ cynic. Benny Begin, another former Likud minister and an avowed hawk, has called Lieberman’s appointment “delirious.”

As minister of defence, these positions will be highly consequential. Not only will he be in charge of the military brass and its promotion, but he will have statutory authority over many affairs in the West Bank, which is under military rule. Any attempt to improve the daily lives of Palestinians (such as a project just announced to streamline checkpoints for Palestinians) will be under his purview. His open calls to bring down Hamas through a ground invasion of Gaza if there is another round of fighting with Hamas—voiced even while he was a cabinet member during the last round of fighting—will now carry the weight of the minister of defence.

What was Herzog thinking?

For the past year, since Netanyahu formed his fourth government, Herzog had denied time and again that he was aiming to join Netanyahu rather than replace him. He bemoaned the cynicism of those who simply would not believe him. This week the masks came off. Negotiations between the sides were accelerated and Herzog began a difficult intra-party fight to justify such a move. “National unity” governments are quite common in Israel, starting with the emergency cabinet of 1967, on the eve of the Six-Day War, when a sense of imminent doom swept the country.

These governments, however, are usually justified by either an acute crisis, like in 1967, or in order to resolve a political deadlock, such as between Shimon Peres’ Labour and Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud in 1984. Peres and Shamir even “rotated” the post of prime minister. Though the government was incapable of any meaningful diplomatic advances, on which it was divided, it succeeded in tackling hugely important challenges in the economy—bringing inflation down from an annual rate of over 444 percent (not a typo) in 1984, and in defence—extricating Israel from most of Lebanon, following the first Israeli Lebanon War.

What would be the logic this time? Herzog was promising three things to his party members: a host of portfolios (jobs and titles but also influence on a range of domestic policy issues); a veto on some aspects of policy which Labour finds most damaging, including remote settlement construction and legislation seen as limiting democratic discourse in Israel; and a leading role in any negotiations with the Palestinians, staring with the French peace conference.

The jobs for Labour would have been real. A veto on policy could have been important—Tzipi Livni, Herzog’s non-Labour partner in the Zionist Union, played a crucial role in protecting democratic norms as minister of justice in Netanyahu’s previous government.

On peace, however, Herzog was offering fool’s gold. Put it this way: if you think Herzog would have real autonomy to run negotiations with the Palestinians while Netanyahu is prime minister, I have two suggestions. First, ask Tzipi Livni, who had that exact task in the previous government and was accompanied to every negotiation by Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, Yitzhak Molcho. Livni, incidentally, was strongly opposed to joining Netanyahu this time around.

Second, I have some great real-estate in a swamp in Florida I’d like to discuss with you.

Herzog had a political rationale as well. He is a natural minister and backroom politician: smart, hardworking and prone to pragmatic compromises. He is not a natural public politician. As Leader of the Opposition he has wowed no one with his charisma or ability to stand up to Netanyahu and offer a bold alternative. Better to be in the halls of power than in the open arena. With the prospects of a fierce leadership challenge in his own Labour Party, moreover, he would have bolstered his bona fides as a national leader and therefore give himself a bit more time—the most a politician in Israel can really hope for.

If there was a political benefit to Herzog personally, the outlook for his Labour Party would have been dismal. Having joined Netanyahu, it would have been very hard to present the party as an alternative to his rule.

What now?

Netanyahu can now feel slightly more secure in his coalition, though once again at the mercy of the mercurial Lieberman. Lieberman will enjoy a powerful post that usually bestows its occupant with new popularity in Israel (the converse is true of the finance ministry). Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon will enjoy a wider coalition to pass his domestic legislation and budget; indeed he’d been pushing for enlarging the coalition since it was formed.

In the opposition, Herzog is weaker than ever. After being led on by Netanyahu for months, breaking his own word on the negotiations and then losing his gamble, he is severely exposed to challenges within Labor. His party’s image has taken a serious hit as well.

Herzog’s weakness will allow others in the opposition to claim the mantle of alternative to Netanyahu. Already, Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party is the main beneficiary, but others may emerge as well, especially from the ranks of former generals like Gabi Ashkenazi.

Most importantly, Israel’s actual policy may be affected significantly by this move. Of all the governmental posts, defence is the one that has the most effect on the crucial questions of security for Israelis (and on the daily lives of Palestinians). Instead of grand peace plans Herzog was selling, Netanyahu’s political brilliance has wrought one of the most hardline governments Israel has ever had.

Natan Sachs is a Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center for Middle East Policy. His work focuses on Israeli foreign policy, domestic politics, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and U.S.-Israeli relations. He is currently writing a book on Israeli grand strategy and its domestic origins.

Israelis Will Pay Dearly for Their Prime Minister’s Reckless Appointment

Netanyahu has demonstrated that he is prepared to drag the country into a potentially disastrous military adventure, to remove all moral constraints and to encourage blatant racism for the sole purpose of staying in power.

Haaretz editorial
May 19, 2016

It’s hard to imagine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making a more reckless and irresponsible decision than appointing Avigdor Lieberman defence minister.

For the second time since the last election Netanyahu had to choose between the Zionist Union and the extreme right, and once again he chose to veer right and establish an ideological, racist coalition that aims to entrench the occupation, expand the settlements in the territories, oppress the Arab minority and undermine Israeli democracy.

Yisrael Beiteinu’s leader has for many years represented a racist position that views Israel’s Arab citizens as a nuisance and their Knesset representatives as traitors. He calls for an aggressive defence policy, the reoccupation of the Gaza Strip and the overthrow of the territory’s Hamas government and the economically destruction of the Palestinian Authority, which in his opinion encourages, incites toward and is responsible for attacks on Israelis.

In recent weeks he has led the political struggle on behalf of Elor Azaria, the soldier who executed a dying Palestinian assailant in Hebron. Lieberman called for Azaria to be released from arrest and not charged with manslaughter.
When he was foreign minister Lieberman did very little, but his ability to cause damage to the state was limited. Now he will be in charge of the army and of the occupation machine in the territories, with an almost unlimited potential to foment crises and to jeopardize the national interest.

He will be able to sign off on massive building plans in the settlements, end the security coordination with the PA, strive for a confrontation with Hamas in the south, intensify the blockade of the Gaza Strip, bar the employment of Palestinians in Israel and encourage violations of the laws of war.

Lieberman’s support for Azaria and for closing the investigation of Col. Yisrael Shomer, who shot and killed a Palestinian teenager as he fled after throwing rocks at the officer’s vehicle, signals to soldiers and police officers that the political leadership expects them to shoot first and ask questions later, that executing a mortally wounded person or a fleeing teen is behaviour worthy of support and encouragement, not investigation and prosecution.

His call for the declaration of a state of emergency in Israel, “like in France after the attack in Paris” is especially worrisome: Lieberman would like to suspend freedom of expression in favour of freedom to shoot.

It was only a month ago that Netanyahu (in the name of Likud), described Lieberman as a lazy amateur, “a petty prattler” who wasn’t even fit to be a military analyst. Now Netanyahu is entrusting the defence establishment to a man for whom “the only projectile to ever whistle past his ear was a tennis ball.”

At the moment of truth, the prime minister has demonstrated that he is prepared to drag the country into a potentially disastrous military adventure, to remove all moral constraints and to encourage blatant racism, for the sole purpose of staying in power. The high price will be paid by Israel’s citizens and their Palestinian neighbours.

Is new defence minister dangerous for Israel?

Some in the Israeli military are panicked over Avigdor Lieberman heading the Defence Ministry, but despite his tempestuous reputation, Lieberman is neither stupid nor crazy.

By Ben Caspit, trans. Sandy Bloom, Al Monbitor /Israel Pulse
May 23, 2016

Over the past year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most bitter, dangerous and combative adversary was none other than Yisrael Beitenu Chair Avigdor Liberman. After deciding in May 2015 not to join Netanyahu’s fourth government, Liberman positioned himself as the prime minister’s number one critic. He hit below the belt at times, such as on March 28 when he called Netanyahu a “liar and a crook” while poking at the prime minister’s purported cowardice and accusing him of being a danger to Israel’s national security.

Netanyahu hasn’t just taken it. He fights back. “The closest thing to a bullet that ever came whizzing past [Liberman’s] ear was a tennis ball,” said associates of the prime minister April 16. (In Hebrew, the same word is used for “ball” and for “rifle bullets.”) “A man who had never in his life led soldiers to the battlefield, never made a single operational decision and never attended one Cabinet meeting from beginning to end does not have the qualifications to be a military commentator.”

Now Netanyahu intends to appoint this very same person — who is allegedly unqualified to be a military commentator — to the post of defence minister after pushing Moshe Ya’alon, a former Israel Defence Forces (IDF) chief of staff, from the position.

Even when compared with “normal” rough-and-tumble Israeli politics, the current, rare, system-wide madness has succeeded within three days in generating chaos in the political and international arenas: Netanyahu’s long, secret negotiations with Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog to persuade his party to join the government have been halted. Far-reaching diplomatic plans involving international figures, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Quartet envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have been shelved.

People in Sisi’s circle view adding Liberman to Netanyahu’s coalition as an act of betrayal. A Western diplomat told Al-Monitor that Sisi had put his prestige on the line by mobilizing in anticipation of the Zionist Camp joining the coalition. He agreed to externalize his relationship with Netanyahu for the chance of bringing Herzog into the government and facilitating an international conference in Paris. Instead, he got Liberman in the Defence Ministry. All this is in addition to the departure of an experienced and popular defence minister in Ya’alon.

The coalition was expected to grow from the minimum 61 out of 120 Knesset seats to 67 mandates. This would give Netanyahu breathing space in Knesset votes. Meanwhile, Orly Levy-Abekasis, a Yisrael Beitenu Knesset member, quit in protest over social justice issues remaining out of bounds, leaving the coalition at 66 members.

For the time being, negotiations for a coalition agreement between Liberman and Netanyahu remain stuck. This is due to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s opposition to transferring billions in pension money to new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, as Liberman is demanding. At the moment, everything hangs by a thread. This is what the Israeli political house of cards looks like in mid-2016.

Ya’alon departed the Defence Ministry on May 22 following a modest ceremony. He declined to wait for Liberman to assume the position and refused to participate at the traditional farewell and swearing-in ceremony. He has resigned, temporarily, from political life, but he’ll be back with a new political platform, as reported by Al-Monitor.

Meanwhile, the military and upper echelons of the IDF are in something of a panic. Liberman had said on April 16 that if he were defence minister, he would inform Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza that he had 48 hours to return the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, and two Israeli citizens being held by Hamas, Avraham-Avera Mengisto and Hisham al-Sayyad, or he — Haniyeh — would die. Liberman has demanded on dozens of occasions that Gaza be conquered and the Hamas regime be brought to an end. Now he is being offered the keys to the apparatus that could theoretically make this a reality.

It is not only operational issues that worry IDF officials. There are also ideological and ethical issues separating them from Liberman like a massive minefield. The Israeli soldier who shot and killed a wounded Palestinian at short range in Hebron on March 24 is symbolic of these differences in approach: The army arrested the soldier to put him on trial, but Liberman regularly visits the court to show his support for the soldier and his actions. Ya’alon, by contrast, backed up the IDF and its response to the shooting, including the investigation of the soldier. Liberman attacked the investigation and soon might be the minister in charge.

How will that affect sensitive relationships in the highest echelons of the military in terms of its day-to-day functioning? The answer lies in the hands of two people: Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot. Many see Lt. Gen. Eizenkot as the last of the Mohicans able to make a stand for “IDF values” and ethical standards and to hold the ground against over-the-top, vitriolic attacks, a role that Ya’alon had previously taken on.

Anyone who really knows Liberman knows that a large part of the panic and dismay is superfluous. Liberman is neither stupid nor crazy. Almost two years ago, he was the “responsible adult” among Israel’s political-diplomatic top brass. In contrast to the devastation wrought by Netanyahu on the relationship with Washington, it was Liberman who cultivated an efficacious bond with the United States, defended Secretary of State John Kerry and displayed a pragmatic approach to relations.

During that same period, Liberman put much effort into his plan to wrest control of the Israeli premiership from the centre. Then a criminal investigation was opened against his party’s higher-ups. Liberman believes Netanyahu instigated the probe. Liberman was forced to take a right turn to survive politically. Today, he will have to decide whether to return to the role of the responsible adult or cleave to his “bad boy” image and set the Middle East on fire.

The educated guess is that Liberman will turn toward the center. He will not get a second chance to occupy the No. 2 position in Israel. It will be forbidden for him to cause a war or a deterioration in circumstances. He will not have a second chance to make a first impression. At one time, Liberman had raised the idea of a regional approach to peace, a view that recently stood at the centre of a Herzog-Netanyahu initiative before it was shelved.

Liberman will surprise everyone and be a prudent, reasoned defence minister — one that is responsible, not tempestuous. If, indeed, he does enter the Defence Ministry in the coming days, Liberman will know that for the first and last time in his life, he faces a glass ceiling. He can shatter that ceiling and continue to take off, or he can crack his own skull. It is his choice.

Israeli report: Abbas fearful of Dahlan’s relationship with Lieberman

May 24, 2016

Right-wing Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman will endeavour to create the appropriate conditions for the return of his friend, former Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan, as head of the Palestinian Authority, Israeli media sources have said.

Channel 10’s Arab affairs commentator, Zvi Yehezkeli, said there are reasons “to justify the rise in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ blood pressure. He is well aware of the special relationship between his mortal enemy Dahlan and the new defence minister in Israel.”

In a report aired by the channel on Sunday, Yehezkeli pointed out that Lieberman “greatly improves Dahlan’s prospects of returning to the internal Palestinian arena. Credit for bolstering the relationship between the two men goes to the role played by their mutual friend, billionaire Swiss Jewish businessman Martin Schlaff.”

Lieberman-Dahlan go-between, Swiss billionaire Martin Schlaff

He explained that what improves Dahlan’s chances is the special relationship he has with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi in addition to his position as adviser to the ruler of the United Arab Emirates.

Lieberman has openly expressed his plan to get rid of Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip. He is also interested in imposing an international mandate over the Strip before handing it over to a Palestinian or Arab party.

In an article published by Haaretz, former Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens called for seeking Egypt’s assistance in finding an Arab or Palestinian party to take charge of matters in the Gaza Strip once Hamas is toppled.

Lieberman’s bet on Dahlan is in contrast with the general assessment agreed upon by the security institution within Israel who believe Abbas could only be replaced by a personality that is “radical and with extremist plans”. They said this is due to the Palestinian people’s disappointment in the results of the negotiations and due to the rise in support for resistance operations against Israel.

Walla website recently quoted the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, General Yoav Mordechai, as saying that any leadership to succeed Abbas “will be an extremist leadership.”

Major General Gadi Shamni, the former commander of the Central Region within the Israeli army, agreed. He told Channel 1 that the idea that Abbas would be succeeded by a “moderate” personality is not consistent with reality.

Israeli PM under fire after proposing hawkish far-right leader Lieberman to head defence

By RT (Russian state TV channel)
May 20, 2016

Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon resigned on Friday to clear the way for former FM Avigdor Lieberman, a right-wing politician and new ally of PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Opposition decried the appointment, saying it would result in a policy “on the brink of madness.”

“I informed the PM that after his conduct and recent developments, and given the lack of faith in him, I am resigning from the government and parliament and taking a break from political life,” Ya’alon said.

Lieberman served as Israeli foreign minister from 2009 to 2012 and from 2013 to 2015. He currently chairs a right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party and is known for his controversial proposals. For example, Lieberman wants to “cut off heads” of Arab-Israelis not “loyal” to Israel, bomb Egypt’s Aswan dam, and offer Israeli towns with large Arab populations to the future Palestinian state in exchange for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which would then become part of the Jewish state.

Speculation on his new role in Netanyahu’s cabinet arose after consultations between Lieberman and the Israeli prime minister on Wednesday. Netanyahu, who is the leader of the centre-right Likud party, is trying to cement his current coalition’s shaky position, as it holds a majority of one in the Israeli parliament.

The possible appointment, which is expected to be decided by the weekend, has prompted a storm of criticism from the Israeli opposition and Palestinian politicians, who anticipate an even more hostile military policy under Lieberman, who himself lives in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Isaac Herzog, the leader of the centre-left Zionist Union, which had been expected to enter into coalition with Likud before Netanyahu’s sudden U-turn in favor of Lieberman, said that if the Israeli hawk joins the government, it will result in a policy “on a brink of madness.” He believes that choosing such a radical figure as head of the defence ministry would mean that Israel is preparing to “embark on a journey of war and funerals,” as cited by Guardian.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry issued a statement slamming the upcoming government reshuffle as “fresh proof there is no real peace partner in Israel,” while calling Lieberman “an extremist,” according to Haaretz.

With his appointment, Israel would send a “message to the world that Israel prefers extremism, the occupation and settlements to a peace accord,” the statement reads.

An unnamed Palestinian official told the paper that appointing such an outspoken anti-Palestinian politician known for pro-settlement views to head Israel’s defence ministry would actually serve as “proof to the international community that the emerging government, including the one leading it, isn’t interested at all in an agreement [with Palestine].”

The Israeli military establishment also appears to be less than enthusiastic about the prospect of having a defence chief with fewer qualifications than outgoing defence minister, who has vast combat experience.

While not naming Lieberman or Netanyahu, Ya’alon lashed out at his critics in a Tel Aviv speech on Thursday, accusing certain political forces of carrying out a “full volume attack [on] our basic values.”

“Our moral compass for basic questions has been lost,” Ya’alon told Israel’s youth movement at the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters, as cited by The Times of Israel.

Former defence minister Moshe Arens said in a radio interview that it’s unlikely that Lieberman will ever be able to fill Ya’alon’s shoes.

“I hope Lieberman lives to 120, but I think that even if he does, he will not gain the prowess, knowledge and experience that Ya’alon has,” he said, as cited by Reuters. “These kinds of chances should not be taken.”

The controversial decision to appoint Lieberman to the post of defence chief was preceded by a row between Netanyahu and Ya’alon, who backed the prosecution of Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier who shot an unarmed Palestinian attacker back in March. In contrast, Netanyahu personally expressed support for the family of the soldier, who is now on trial for manslaughter.

The rift deepened after Ya’alon backed Major General Yair Golan, who drew parallels between tendencies in Nazi Germany and present day Israel in a speech devoted to Holocaust Remembrance Day.

While Netanyahu’s office said that the IDF general “was mistaken in his comments and it would be good if he fixed them,” Ya’alon stood by Golan, saying that he was a “valued commander, driven by values and many accomplishments,” and that “the attacks on him [were] due to intentional, distorted interpretations of something he said.”

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