Friday, December 31, 2010

With friends like Avigdor Lieberman...


What is surprising is not the Israeli Foreign Minister's views but Benjamin Netanyahu's tolerance of his expressing them

By Donald Macintyre
The Independent

"....Then this week, he did it again. Just as efforts, undoubtedly in Israel's strategic interest, were being made to patch up relations with Turkey that had gone into deep freeze after Israel's lethal raid on the Gaza-bound vessel Mavi Marmara, Mr Lieberman chose to denounce the Turkish leadership for their "lies", going on to reaffirm his opposition to reaching an agreement with the "illegitimate" moderate Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. The Israeli Foreign Minister, in other words, has made a mockery of Lyndon Johnson's famous remark about why it was better to keep J Edgar Hoover on at the FBI. Mr Lieberman is inside the tent. And he is pissing in as well as out.

What is surprising is not Mr Lieberman's views on these topics but Mr Netanyahu's seemingly inexhaustible tolerance for his expression of them. It can be debated whether an ultra-nationalist who fought the last election on a proposal to force Israeli Arabs to swear allegiance to the Jewish state in order to qualify for citizenship, and who once said that Arab parliamentarians who talked to Hamas should be executed, could ever become the Israeli Prime Minister. But one point on which both men seem agreed – and they are not alone – is that Mr Lieberman remains Mr Netanyahu's most dangerous rival on the right. And Mr Netanyahu has apparently decided, for now at least, that his Foreign Minister is marginally less threatening inside his coalition than out of it.....

With a strengthened Mr Lieberman – who once exhorted his colleagues to treat Gaza as "Russia operates in Chechnya" – waiting in the wings, it's isn't impossible that Mr Netanyahu would be tempted catastrophically into Gaza, as Ehud Olmert was tempted so bloodily in an election year when Mr Netanyahu himself was similarly waiting in the wings. But either way, the momentum towards a Middle East breakthrough that seemed possible when Barack Obama was elected two years ago is at once more necessary and much harder to generate than it was then. "

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