Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu owes his successful political career to former
prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who helped him rise to prominence when he served
as deputy foreign minister under David Levy in Shamir’s
Shamir constantly undermined Levy by running the country’s
diplomatic policies on his own and using defense minister Moshe Arens,
ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval and Netanyahu as his messengers to the world.
The climax came in 1991 when Shamir took Netanyahu to the Madrid peace
conference instead of Levy.
Now Netanyahu is in charge and has acted
similarly to Shamir. Avigdor Lieberman is his foreign minister. But when
serious issues have been at stake, the men conducting foreign policy
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, President Shimon Peres, Ministers Moshe
Dan Meridor, Netanyahu’s advisers – and this week – Industry, Trade and
Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer as well.
Ben-Eliezer’s meeting in Zurich
with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, revealed on Channel 2 on
Wednesday night, infuriated Lieberman, who was not in on the secret. He
to take calls from Netanyahu and though he has no plans to remove his
Beiteinu party from the coalition, he made clear that its 15 MKs will no
be Netanyahu’s loyal soldiers in the Knesset.
Sources close to Lieberman
said on Thursday that Netanyahu can play the role of Shamir, but the
minister cannot expect Lieberman to play the role of David Levy and turn
other cheek. Not only will Lieberman not accept the snub and move on, he
try to milk it for all it is worth and make sure that Netanyahu will
Lieberman already started to play the political game in an interview
with Israel Radio Thursday morning. He criticized the decision to meet
Davutoglu not only because it was not deliberated on in the Foreign
the inner security cabinet but also because it came as the result of
from the White House.
The message behind Lieberman’s words was that
Netanyahu has yet again capitulated to pressure from US President Barack
In the days ahead, Lieberman will likely hammer home that message – that
Netanyahu is a serial surrenderer: past, present and, most importantly,
That message is aimed at prospective voters in the next election,
assuming that Lieberman makes it to the next race without an indictment
safe bet, but he is making it anyway). Lieberman and Netanyahu will face
against each other, competing for votes on the moderate right, where
much of the
population is today.
Another element in Lieberman’s efforts to take votes
away from the Likud is his recent return to promoting Israel Beiteinu’s
diplomatic plan that calls for exchanging populations and territories.
first year as foreign minister, Lieberman parroted the government’s
left his party’s platform on the sidelines.
Last Thursday, he published
the plan in The Jerusalem Post
because he wanted it to be taken seriously by
the international community. If the world starts talking about the plan,
Lieberman can make the case to voters that he can be a serious candidate
He also raised the plan to contrast himself with
Netanyahu, who doesn’t have a plan of his own. It was important for
keep his plan in the marketplace of ideas at a time of a diplomatic
especially before the prime minister’s July 6 meeting with Obama at the
Obama promised Elie Wiesel (yet another Israeli shadow foreign
minister?) that he would not try to force a plan on Israelis. But
concerned that Netanyahu will fold to American pressure and accept
Lieberman’s return to promote his plan also coincided with his
fears that Obama would pressure Netanyahu to replace Israel Beiteinu in
coalition with Tzipi Livni’s Kadima.
This fear is mostly irrational,
since Netanyahu detests Livni, but Lieberman is worried that there is no
to Netanyahu’s ability to fold under intense pressure, especially from
By involving himself in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lieberman
appears to be breaking a promise he made when he took over as foreign
that he would stay out of a peace process that he does not believe
Lieberman allegedly made that promise against the advice of his
prominent American strategists, Arthur Finkelstein and George
It was reportedly made clear to him that as foreign minister,
whatever the government did on the peace process would be attributed to
if he tried to disassociate himself from it.
His behavior over the next
few days will undoubtedly be interesting to watch, in part because
in town, fresh from Finkelstein’s and his clients’ unexpected victories
elections in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
The last time Birnbaum was in
the country, surprising moves were made, apparently uncoincidentally, by
four best-known Israeli clients: Lieberman, Kadima leadership candidate
Mofaz, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and the Council of Jewish Communities
Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
In the past 10 days, Lieberman
returned to promote his peace plan, Mofaz became chairman of the
Gilad Schalit caucus, Barkat embarrassed Netanyahu by pushing forward
to build a park in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan and the settlers
plans for a new anti-Netanyahu campaign if he reneges on his promise to
the construction moratorium in September.
Finkelstein and Birnbaum
declined to comment, but the former is known for saying that the
abilities of strategic advisers to influence history are often
Unlike the reputations of some politicians, most notably
Netanyahu, Lieberman does not accept dictates from his strategists as
He is ferociously independent, unpredictable and constantly
overrules his most trusted confidants.
He has risen politically against
all odds and in spite of 14 years of criminal investigations against
next steps, Netanyahu’s and perhaps also those of the State Attorney’s
could dictate whether Lieberman will be remembered as another David
was constantly bypassed and failed to leave his mark on the Foreign
as another Netanyahu, who used the ministry as a stepping stone on the