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A diplomatic boon


Two stories dominate the front pages of Israeli newspapers on Tuesday: the weekend of protests by Israelis of Ethiopian descent and the ongoing efforts by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to forge a new coalition.

The protests by Ethiopian Israelis were sparked by a video that depicted two police officers in what appeared to be an unprovoked attack against a black IDF soldier. On Sunday, members of the Ethiopian community demonstrated in Tel Aviv, blocking main thoroughfares and bringing the city to a standstill. There are contradictory claims regarding how an originally peaceful protest turned violent – some claim that agents provocateurs from the left sparked the violence, while others blamed heavy-handed policing. By the end of the day some 50 people had been treated for injuries and the protests had become a major talking point in Israel and overseas.

On Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin both met with representatives of the Ethiopian community in an effort to diffuse tensions. During a three-hour meeting, Netanyahu called for the 'eradication of racism,' adding that he would appoint a ministerial committee to address the problems the Ethiopian community complained of. Attending the meeting were Internal Security Minister Aharonovitch, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino and Ethiopian MK Avraham Neguise – as well as the Ethiopian Israeli soldier who was beaten by police officers.

The prime minister said at the start of the meeting that he was shocked by the video documenting the beating, calling it unacceptable and adding that the situation must be changed. Police Commissioner Danino publically apologized for the assault on behalf of the police force. He said the police officers had immediately been fired.

Rivlin, meanwhile, said that the difficult scenes from the recent protests revealed an open and raw wound at the heart of Israeli society – the pain of a community crying out over a sense of discrimination, racism and of being unheard. Rivlin said Israelis must look directly at this open wound and admit that Israeli governments have not done enough.

The other main news story of the day – and the lead story in all the newspapers – was the decision by Avigdor Lieberman to resign as foreign minister and to take his Yisrael Beiteinu into the opposition, rather than join the new Netanyahu-led government. At a press conference in Jerusalem on Monday evening, Lieberman said that 'principles were more important than portfolios. What's being built is not a government of the national camp, but a government that smacks of opportunism.'

At his press conference, Lieberman said that one of the major reasons for leaving the coalition talks was the disappearance of the controversial nationality bill. 'Someone vetoed the issue and suddenly it's off the agenda,' he said. 'The coalition does not reflect the national camp position.' Lieberman also slammed the Likud agreement with United Torah Judaism, which he says will result in the cancellation of many reforms agreed upon in the last Knesset including bills regarding the military draft and the ultra-Orthodox.

With Yisrael Beiteinu officially out of the coalition, the best that Netanyahu can hope to achieve by Thursday's deadline is a narrow coalition of just 61 out of the 120 Knesset members.

Hours after making his announcement, Lieberman was interviewed by Channel 2 News, where he predicted that Netanyahu’s new coalition will be short-lived. Lieberman said he is convinced that elections will be held as early as 2016, and perhaps even later this year, but he refused to take responsibility for this possibility, claiming only the Likud is at fault. 'It's hard to function with such a government of 61 MKs,' he said, adding that when there is a narrow government 'one can pass a vote of confidence, but the parliamentary committees cannot function this way. I have a direct connection, but the Likud is responsible for this. The Likud closed a deal in advance with the ultra-Orthodox and effectively closed all options for Yisrael Beiteinu to join the government,' he said.

It is not clear at this time who will replace Lieberman as foreign minister, although speculation is rife that Netanyahu – if he does not manage to convince Isaac Herzog to bring the Zionist Union into the government – will give the post to one of two Likud stalwarts: Silvan Shalom or Yuval Steinitz.

Before yesterday, Netanyahu had only inked coalition deals with Kulanu and United Torah Judaism. On Monday night, Shas became the third party to sign on the dotted line. Shas leader Aryeh Deri will head the Economy Ministry, replacing Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett. Shas will also receive the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, as well as a deputy minister position in the Finance Ministry. After signing the coalition deal, Deri called on Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog to join the government, saying that, 'There's a true opportunity for a socially-oriented government.'

Meanwhile, in order to cross the line and reach 61 seats, Netanyahu now has only Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett left to recruit. According to Haaretz, Likud party officials said that they have made an 'unprecedented offer' to Bennett, which includes the Education Ministry, the Diaspora Affairs portfolio, the Agriculture Ministry, the Culture and Sport Ministry and a deputy ministerial position in the Defense Ministry. In addition, Bennett was offered membership in the Security Cabinet, and control of the Settlement Division.

The Likud said in a statement, 'If Habayit Hayehudi rejects this offer, there's only one alternative to a national Likud government: A left-wing government headed by Herzog, in which there will be no representation of the religious-Zionists. A left-wing government that will evacuate settlements, compromise on Jerusalem, hurt the religious-Zionist public and capitulate to international pressures.'

The Habayit Hayehudi faction convened an emergency meeting last night, after Shas signed its coalition agreement, and authorized Bennett to continue coalition negotiations with the Likud ahead of tomorrow's deadline. Habayit Hayehudi secretary general Nir Orbach said the party is demanding another top-ranking portfolio, in addition to those offered so far in the coalition talks. According to Israel Hayom, one of Habayit Hayehudi's demands would be the highly sought-after Foreign Ministry post .However; the prime minister has already rejected this demand. Instead, he is reportedly offering Habayit Hayehudi the Education Ministry.

In other news, Breaking the Silence – an organization that works with former IDF soldiers who witnessed violations of international law during their military service – issued its report into last summer's Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. According to the testimonies gathered by the organization, there are allegations that ground troops were asked to regard everything inside Gaza as a 'threat', that they should 'not spare ammo', and that tanks fired randomly or for revenge on buildings without knowing whether they were legitimate military targets or contained civilians.

Testimony was provided by more than 60 soldiers and, according to Breaking the Silence, this raises serious questions over whether Israel’s tactics breached its obligations under international law to distinguish and protect civilians. In their testimonies, soldiers depict rules of engagement they characterize as permissive, 'lax' or largely non-existent, including how some soldiers were instructed to treat anyone seen looking towards their positions as 'scouts' to be fired on. The group also claims that the Israeli military operated with different safety margins for bombing or using artillery and mortars near civilians and its own troops, with Israeli forces at times allowed to fire significantly closer to civilians than Israeli soldiers.

Finally, Army Radio reports that the Defense Ministry carried out a test of its new rocket propulsion system on Tuesday morning. The noise startled commuters in southern and central Israel, but the Ministry stressed that the rocket launch was simply a pre-planned test. 'The test was planned by the defense establishment long in advance, and was carried out as planned,' it said. Many residents saw a long cloud of smoke trail appearing in the sky, accompanied by an ear-splitting noise. No further details were provided on the experiment, but several Israeli news sites say that the test was a ballistic missile test. 



STRAIGHT AND NARROW: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Nahum Barnea says that, following Avigdor Lieberman's decision not to join the new government; Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will have a narrow coalition that can be toppled on a whim by anyone of its 61 MKs.

"In Israel's coalition democracy, there is only one thing worse than losing an election – and that is winning one.

In the 2013 election, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud Party suffered a serious blow – but the government that was established in the aftermath of that election served him well for two years. Now, with a record number of seats in the Knesset, Netanyahu is trying to put together a coalition even though, in political terms, he is stark naked. A government that is based on 61 Knesset members is not the kind of government Netanyahu wanted or is used to. It is a government of Oren Hazan: if the 33-year-old freshman Knesset wants to, he can keep the coalition's head above the water. If not, however, he can drown it. It all depends on what sides of the bed he wakes up on or who he argues with in the afternoon.

Hazan, of course, is not the only one in that position. Bezalel Smotrich, the Habayit Hayehudi MK, will also find it hard to support the government if Netanyahu's speech isn't rightist or Jewish enough for him. And then there are the left-leaning members of Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu party, who will be hard pressed to support the government if it turns out that Hazan, Smotrich or some other backbencher has been given a sweetener by Netanyahu. When you're running a country with a 61-MK coalition, any slip of the tongue can become a crisis and every sigh is proof of an impending storm.

There have been Israeli governments that have survived despite having just a single-seat majority in the Knesset. There have even been minority governments. What kept them together were the authority of the prime minister and the fear of fresh elections. The members of the incoming government may be afraid of a new election, but there's very little respect toward the prime minister's authority. This lack of respect was clearly visible during the coalition negotiations, when everyone, it seems, was able to extract from the prime minister concessions in terms of money, legislation, authority, governance and all the things that Netanyahu preached about during his long political career. Netanyahu conducted a clearance sale. And what for? For an Oren Hazan government.

Avigdor Lieberman waited patiently until the last moment – and then he delivered his blow. The choice facing him after his election failure was a stark one: he could either allow himself to be appointed foreign minister in the new government, or he could join the opposition ranks. As foreign minister, he could have continued traveling the world, visiting those countries where he is still welcome, and he would have had to come to terms with the fact that this is his – and his party's – last hurrah. Next time, Yisrael Beiteinu would not cross the electoral threshold.

It's not certain that the party Lieberman founded will survive in opposition, but at least it now has a fighting chance: it will be the only party that is situated to the right of the new government. As such, it will enjoy plenty of space for rhetorical fun and games. It will be able to criticize the new government time and time again on all matters political, diplomatic and civil; it will be able to slam Netanyahu for capitulating to the ultra-Orthodox and for making far-reaching concessions to the national-religious camp.

The truth is that Lieberman had an even simpler choice to make: either join the opposition now or join it in two years. He opted to do so now for purely emotional reasons: he wanted revenge for Netanyahu's treatment of him – and he wanted it now."



LIEBERMAN'S GONE: Writing on the NRG website, Shalom Yerushalmi says that Avigdor Lieberman's decision not to join the new coalition leaves Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with the slenderest of parliamentary majority – but adds that Isaac Herzog and his Zionist Union could soon boost the numbers in the coalition.

“There is one principle that has guided Avigdor Lieberman throughout his political career: harming Binyamin Netanyahu as much as possible. Lieberman is furious with the prime minister and his new and old coalition partners; if he can rain on their parade and impinge on their celebrations – and perhaps shorten the lifespan of the fourth Netanyahu government even before it has been established, thereby dragging the country to another election – then why the hell not?

Much has been said and written about Lieberman's profound hatred of Netanyahu. The outgoing foreign minister, who announced yesterday his resignation and said that he would not be taking Yisrael Beiteinu into the coalition, believes that Netanyahu is a machine, driven by self-interest and devoid of any sentiment. As those close to him put it, Lieberman thinks that Netanyahu 'isn't a human being.' Netanyahu and Lieberman have known each other for 30 years; their relationship has had its ups and downs. Now, however, it's at an all-time low.

Lieberman would never admit as much in public – his favorite putdown for such things is to call them 'science fiction' – but sources close to him have implicated Netanyahu in corruption charges against Yisrael Beiteinu, which almost wiped the party off the political map.

Netanyahu spend many, many hours with Lieberman during the coalition negotiations and offered him the foreign and immigrant absorption ministries – even though Yisrael Beiteinu only has six MKs in the new Knesset. Lieberman understood that this was part and parcel of the game that Netanyahu plays to protect his own interests, since the prime minister did not want Yisrael Beiteinu to be in opposition. That, he knew, would leave him with the slenderest of parliamentary majorities – just one single seat. In contrast, Lieberman failed to understand why Netanyahu was so keen to keep Yisrael Beiteinu off the Knesset's Labor and Welfare Committee; given that he believes that one member of his party – Orly Levy-Abuksis – would be the perfect person to serve as chair.

Throughout the day on Monday, senior officials from the Prime Minister's Office pressed Lieberman to remain in the coalition. They agreed to several more of his demands and even offered him chairmanship of that much sought-after committee. Pressure intensified after NRG reported exclusively that Lieberman had decided to join the opposition benches, but by then it was too late.

Lieberman had already written his j'accuse letter about Netanyahu and, at a press conference he convened later in the afternoon, he called the new coalition 'opportunistic' and explained why he and his party would not be joining it. He accused it of not representing the nationalist camp, he criticized the way that coalition negotiations had been conducted, he slammed wasteful agreements between Likud and its new partners, he had harsh words for Netanyahu's decision to backtrack on several important bills on civil matters and – of course – he accused the prime minister himself of being irresponsible and indecisive.

Netanyahu, therefore, is now left with a coalition of 61 MKs. It is possible to build a government with such a slender majority, but it's hard to survive. Netanyahu will start with a narrow government, therefore, and try to expand its wingspan in the future. Lieberman is sure that the Zionist Union is waiting around the corner to join the coalition. I, too, would take with a pinch of salt the denials by Isaac Herzog, who insists that he will not take his party into the Netanyahu government. If Herzog does not join forces with Netanyahu now, he can do so later. After all, the alternative facing him – and facing Netanyahu, too, for that matter – is rather grim.



THE DESTROYER OF THE RIGHT: Writing in Israel Hayom, Mati Tuchfeld accuses Avigdor Lieberman of political opportunism and says that the former foreign minister has joined forces with those who want to overthrow Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

"The few remaining Knesset members from Yisrael Beiteinu – a party that came close to being wiped out in the March election – are usually nothing more than scenery for the party leader. Even they found it difficult yesterday to contain themselves when they heard the reasons that party chairman Avigdor Lieberman cited as the explanation for his decision not to join the new Likud-led coalition.

Lieberman's convoluted and bizarre arguments, which he explained for more than half an hour at a press conference yesterday, came after a series of critical statements that he has made in recent weeks – some of which sounded justified, others were rather detached from reality. But they failed to address one simple yet key question: How can Lieberman explain the façade that Yisrael Beiteinu has put on for months, whereby it claimed to be part of the right-wing camp?

There's no question that the coalition that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is about to unveil will be the most right-wing in recent years. Unlike previous governments, which always contained some left-wing elements, the next coalition will be formed from exclusively rightist parties. The national camp has not been this homogenous or this strong for a generation. The entire political system, from the right and the left, believed that the new government will serve its entire four-year term.

Lieberman's decision not to join the coalition means that he will be remembered from now on as the politician who tried to destroy the right. Every time the Knesset fails to pass a right-wing bill, every time the leftist opposition manages to thwart the government, every party that Netanyahu is forced to bring into the government in order to fill the void and – god forbid – when the prime minister is forced to call an early election, will have one clear address: Lieberman, who has hoodwinked voters more than any other politician since Ariel Sharon and his disengagement from Gaza.

Lieberman claimed yesterday that Netanyahu's coalition deal with United Torah Judaism effectively sold out the country to the ultra-Orthodox. He himself was a member of a coalition with ultra-Orthodox parties in 2009 and he agreed to sit with them in the previous government – under exactly the same conditions. After all, Isaac Herzog and even Yair Lapid agreed to those same conditions. Lieberman said that the new government does not represent the nationalist camp and he cited the failure to push through the so-called Jewish state bill as a prime example. He would appear to have forgotten, however, how he rushed to join the Kadima-Labor government when Ehud Olmert was prime minister. At the time, Olmert was working on his own version of the disengagement – the so-called Convergence Plan – and was willing to negotiate the return of the Golan Heights to Syria.

All of a sudden, the most important thing on the Yisrael Beiteinu leader's agenda is the Jewish-state bill? Why? Because he's not a rightist. Lieberman does whatever he thinks is best for Lieberman. In this case, motivated by a strong sense of vengeance against the people he believes have destroyed his party, he reached the conclusion that his interests would be best served by joining forces with all those who want to overthrow Netanyahu – in Israel and aboard. He has thrown in his lot with the rich and powerful, who wield massive influence over the media. His dream is that, one day, these people will help him to rebuild his battered party."



TENSION: Writing on the News 1 website, Yoni Ben-Menachem comments on rising regional tensions and points the finger of blame at Iran.

“On April 28 the Syrian defense minister, General Fahd Jassim al-Freij, made a surprise visit to Tehran where, with the backdrop of the escalating battles in Syria and the weakening of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, he met with his Iranian counterpart.

In a joint press conference in Tehran, the two emphasized that 'Syria and Iran, and the resistance axis, will not allow the enemies to achieve their goals in the region, and Iran supports Syria unstintingly in its strategic relations with it.'

Iran is very concerned about the situation in Syria. The military assistance it gives the Assad regime for its war against the rebels has turned out to be insufficient. Nor has Hizbollah’s role in fighting alongside the Syrian army stopped the rebels’ progress toward Damascus and the city of Latakia on the northern Syrian coast.

The rebels have formed a coalition of several organizations, including the Islamic State under the name Jeish el-Fateh, which has scored successes on the battlefield. They have conquered the Idlib province and effectively cut off the capital, Damascus, from the city of Aleppo. They have also taken control of the town of Jisr al–Shughour on the Idlib-Latakia route, and on April 20, 2014 fierce battles were waged in the Latakia area, which is considered one of the strongholds of the Alawite regime. And in the southern Daraa region, rebels managed to seize the Nasib border crossing, which has served as a free trade area between Jordan and Syria.

If the rebels’ advance toward Damascus from the east and north continues, Iran will not be able to stand aside; it will have to intervene even more significantly in the battles. It is in this context that one should see the Syrian defense minister’s visit to Tehran. Iran is determined to do all it can to save Assad’s regime.

According to various sources, Qatar has been able to persuade the new Saudi king, Salman bin Abdulaziz, to halt his alliance with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates against the Muslim Brotherhood and, instead, forge a new triangle with Turkey and Qatar that will strongly support the Islamist rebels’ coalition against the Assad regime.

In Yemen, despite Saudi Arabia’s announcement on April 21, 2015 that it was stopping the aerial bombing, the battles continue. Iran has no intention of giving in, and the Houthi rebels exploited the halt in the bombing to try and make military gains. Over the weekend there were also clashes along Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia announced that the Houthi rebels had attacked across the Yemeni border and that the Saudi army had killed dozens of their fighters.

The tension with Iran exists in both the naval and aerial domains. After Saudi Arabia announced it was stopping the aerial bombings in Yemen, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif declared a new Iranian naval strategy called the 'broader Persian Gulf strategy.' On May 1, the official Iranian news agency IRNA, citing Iranian naval commander General Habib Allah Siyari, reported the Iranian navy plans to dispatch its fleet’s ships on July 11 to the area of the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait.

In the aftermath of the incident on April 28 in which five Iranian battleships intercepted the Marshall Islands-flagged container ship Maersk Tigris and forced it to sail to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, American destroyers have moved into position to protect American-flagged container ships crossing through the Strait of Hormuz. Although Iran claims that the April 28 incident stemmed from a commercial conflict over a financial debt, the Pentagon has issued a statement calling the incident a 'provocation.'

It appears that Iran took this step in response to USS-Sterett destroyer searching a Panamanian-flagged ship Saisaban on April 1 in waters near Yemen, suspecting it was carrying Iranian weapons for the rebels in Yemen.

To this one should add an aerial incident that occurred in Yemen on April 28, 2014 after an Iranian 'relief' plane entered Yemeni airspace and tried to land at Sana’a’s airport, on the claim that it was Yemeni rather than Saudi airspace. To prevent the plane from landing, Saudi air force pilots bombed the runway at the Sana’a airport.

Iran will not allow itself to lose the strategic strongholds it has gained in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, nor its de facto control over four Arab capitals (Baghdad, Damascus, Sana’a, and Beirut). It appears, then, that on those fronts where its allies are losing strength, Iran will have to ramp up its direct military involvement so as to safeguard its gains."




ISRAEL'S SURPRISING DILEMMA: Writing on the website of i24 television station, Danny Rubinstein comments on Israel's dilemma regarding the fate of the Palestinian Authority.

"In recent days reports have surfaced regarding efforts to bring about reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Is such reconciliation possible? And what is the goal of the governments in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo?

The recent efforts included a statement by Ramallah spokesman Ehab Bsseiso that the prime minister of the Palestinian national consensus government, Rami Hamdallah, and a group of ministers were about to visit Gaza. He did not give a date, or the names of the ministers. Such a visit took place more than two weeks ago and ended with great embarrassment. Prime Minister Hamdallah decided to travel to a conference in Indonesia instead of Gaza, and his ministers who traveled from Ramallah to Gaza left disappointed.

Now the new UN Envoy to the Middle East, Nikolay Mladenov, is trying to promote reconciliation. Such reconciliation is necessary to accelerate efforts to rebuild the Strip and take Gaza and its 1.8 million residents out of the cycle of wars that has devastated the enclave thrice in the last eight years.

But reconciliation is a moot point for one simple reason: Hamas won’t give up control of Gaza - specifically of the security forces. Hamas is only willing to cede control of civilian affairs to the government in Ramallah. 'Hamas wants us to pay the salaries of its people in Gaza without having any responsibility as to what happens there,' one of the spokespeople in Ramallah said recently.

Meanwhile, violence between Hamas supporters and opponents in Gaza is escalating. Over the weekend, youths who call themselves 'The April 29th Movement' held a demonstration in Gaza, calling for reconciliation, but it ended in clashes with police.

Policymakers in Israel appear to have accepted the fact that reconciliation is impossible and that Hamas will continue to rule the Strip. Last week Israeli media reported that Mohammed Deif, who was thought to have been assassinated by Israel in the summer 2014 Gaza war, had returned to lead the Hamas military wing and that relations were tense between him and the political leadership in Gaza which is inclined to adopt a long-term truce with Israel.

Many in Ramallah believe that Israel supports continued Hamas control of Gaza. This could well be true. Clearly, despite the ongoing military preparations to attack Israel, such as digging of more assault tunnels - Hamas seeks to maintain the truce put in place at the end of the war last August, at least for the coming year. That is why it has been preventing, by and large, the firing of rockets at Israel. Given the political struggle between Jerusalem and Ramallah, Israel is likely happier with a weakened Palestinian Authority than with one empowered by receiving control of Gaza.

But the Israeli position is also inconclusive. Outgoing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has demanded time and again that the new government (which will probably be installed next week) clearly declare its intention to bring down Hamas. There is no doubt that Israel is capable of conquering the whole Strip in a short time. But the problem is not of capability, but rather of willingness to do so. And that willingness is missing.

A correct reading of the political map indicates that the only option for ending the Hamas reign in Gaza is to let it collapse. Politically, Hamas is besieged and isolated. Egypt considers it a terrorist organization and has been blocking the Rafah crossing between the Strip and the Sinai, which is a vital lifeline for Gaza and its impoverished residents. Hamas is attempting to forge ties and obtain aid from other Arab countries, but the only country willing to do so is Qatar, and it is unclear how much longer that support will last. Turkey helps out a bit, but Hamas attempts to get assistance from Saudi Arabia and Iran have not been very successful. Ideologically, Hamas, as a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, is considered an enemy of both Tehran and Riyadh.

Hamas does not have the money to pay its 40,000 employees. This month, between 50 and 65 percent of their salaries were cut, with the minimum set at NIS1,000 (about $250). Hamas chiefs are accusing Ramallah of preventing the payment of salaries, and UN envoy Mladenov is continuing his efforts to guarantee payment for the civilian government clerks in Gaza, most of them employees of the education and health systems hired by Hamas in recent years. How long can Hamas hold on? Hard to say. What is clear for the time being is that Hamas is not angling for another war, not yet. Given the region’s instability, that, too, is a lot."



DEMISE OF THE TOP DIPLOMAT: Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Gil Hoffman comments on the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister, saying that it seems logical that the real reason for the decision is personal, rather than ideological or political.

"Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman may have done a service to Israeli public diplomacy when he announced his departure from the Foreign Ministry Monday.

He did this not by quitting and giving up a chance to remain foreign minister for another few years – Foreign Ministry staff has said that, despite criticism, he ran the ministry well and appointed the right diplomats in the right places. Rather, the service Lieberman did to Israeli public diplomacy came in his words when announcing his resignation. In his diatribe, Lieberman repeatedly slammed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from the Right.

In an attack that could make it easier for diplomats around the world to defend Netanyahu’s new government, Lieberman painted the prime minister as the ultimate dove. Netanyahu would not commit to building in settlements and in Jerusalem neighborhoods over the pre-1967 lines. He won’t pass the nation-state bill. He refused to commit to toppling Hamas. He transferred money to the Palestinian Authority. He reiterated his support for a Palestinian state. So much for the hard-line, extreme right-wing government the international media has portrayed Netanyahu as building.

An interviewer on Al-Jazeera sounded amused with Lieberman's characterization of Netanyahu Monday. After hearing Lieberman's principled argument, the interviewer asked for the real reason for his decision.

Decisions made by politicians tend to have three components: Ideology, politics and personal issues.

Lieberman's ideology can be questioned. He has shifted leftward and rightward at a dizzying pace over the past year. He is against bloated governments but served in many. He is against concessions to the ultra-Orthodox but joined coalitions in which plenty of those gestures were made. But, from his point of view, Lieberman has remained ideologically consistent and his word remains his bond.

Politically, the move makes no sense. Lieberman is giving up the chance to become Israel’s longest-serving foreign minister, passing the legendary Abba Eban. Instead of receiving an enhanced Foreign Ministry that for the first time would include authority over relations with the United States and tackling the Iran issue, he will sit in the opposition next to Meretz leader Zahava Gal- On. The Russian immigrants who were almost all but half a mandate of Yisrael Beiteinu's electorate will not have Sofa Landver to serve them in the Immigration and Absorption Ministry. But, if he brings Netanyahu down soon, he could expedite his own political renaissance.

That leaves personal. Sources close to Lieberman said he is frustrated with years of working with Netanyahu and can no longer stand him. They said he still has not recovered from the incident in which Netanyahu committed to consult with him on which presidential candidate other than Reuven Rivlin to support and then Lieberman heard on the radio that Netanyahu had endorsed Rivlin.

Another source close to Lieberman said the investigation against Yisrael Beiteinu, along with the recent death of his mother, had hit him especially hard. He thought he was done with investigations for good, and his mother would see him advance to the top, but it was not meant to be.

Lieberman caused the election by refusing to let Netanyahu form a 61-MK coalition with Shas and United Torah Judaism last December. His departure now will result in the very same 61-MK coalition dominated by the ultra-Orthodox he sought to prevent.

The influence of the ultra-Orthodox will not make the government look too palatable to the international community and much of Diaspora Jewry. But perhaps the world will be able to rest a bit easier knowing that, at least according to Lieberman, the government won’t be right wing."




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