Netanyahu-Lieberman showdown on water bill postponed

Speculation points to Issacharoff, Sofer for possible UK envoy.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN,
February 16, 2011 02:41
2 minute read.
Ron Prosor, UN Ambassador

Ron Prosor 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Israel Beiteinu officials decided Tuesday night to delay a vote on a controversial bill that had been expected to reignite the already tense relations between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister and Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman lashed out at Netanyahu at a Knesset press conference on Monday over appointments of ambassadors and the Likud’s failure to advance key Israel Beiteinu- sponsored legislation in the Knesset. He threatened that his party would advance its agenda independently and violate coalition discipline.

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The first test of how Netanyahu and Lieberman would get along following the press conference was supposed to be a vote on Wednesday on a bill sponsored by Israel Beiteinu MKs Faina Kirschenbaum and Alex Miller that would have removed value-added taxes from water bills.

The Finance Ministry had protested that the bill would cost NIS 1.5 billion, but Israel Beiteinu had threatened to pass it with the support of the opposition. Following mediation between Netanyahu and Lieberman by coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, Israel Beiteinu agreed to delay the vote by two weeks in a decision that will be formally made Wednesday morning.

“The bill is important, and we have advanced it in order to ease the burden on the population that has been paying an increasingly high water bill,” an Israel Beiteinu spokesman said. “But we have agreed to delay it by two weeks.”

Elkin said such an expensive bill could not have been advanced without coordinating it with the government.

He denied reports that he had considered excluding Israel Beiteinu from coalition discipline on the bill.

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“Israel Beiteinu wants to advance their agenda, and that’s understandable, but it’s not always possible,” Elkin said. “We will try to go toward them without breaking the budget and without harming other coalition partners.”

Meanwhile, Lieberman is expected to bring Ambassador to London Ron Prosor’s nomination for the ambassadorship to the United Nations, to the Foreign Ministry’s appointment committee in the next couple of weeks. It will then go to the cabinet for final approval.

Lieberman’s announcement on Monday that he would not agree to send National Security Council head Uzi Arad to London to replace Prosor has opened speculation inside the ministry over who might get that post – considered one of the foreign service’s plum positions.

At the press conference, he said there were a number of highly qualified diplomats inside the Foreign Ministry whom he preferred to appoint to the London position, including some who had been born in London.

That statement fueled speculation that among the possible candidates were Jeremy Issacharoff, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director- general for strategic affairs and formerly the No.2 man in the embassy in Washington, and Mark Sofer, who is currently Israel’s ambassador to India and has previously served as its envoy to Ireland.

Foreign Ministry employees expressed frustration Tuesday that the appointment of Prosor, widely viewed inside the ministry as a very good choice, and the appointment of his replacement have turned into a public political football that does not do any credit to the country’s foreign service.

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