The political cartoon in Wednesday’s Yediot Aharonot said it all.
portrayed a sweating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu looking into
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s office and desperately asking Weinstein, who
was poring over Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s massive legal files,
whether he was making any progress.
The cartoon was published two days
after Lieberman humiliated Netanyahu by calling a press conference to announce
that he had canceled Netanyahu’s decision to appoint national security adviser
Uzi Arad as ambassador to London.
Netanyahu surprised many by not
responding to Lieberman’s provocation and instructing his associates to keep mum
as well. Sources close to him said he had kept silent because he did not want to
exacerbate his problems with Lieberman at a time when the Israel Beiteinu leader
could decide on a whim to bring down Netanyahu’s government and force an early
“You never regret what you don’t say,” a key Netanyahu adviser
said Monday night.
But another Netanyahu associate said the real reason
for his uncharacteristic silence was that Weinstein is expected to announce by
the end of the month that he recommends indicting Lieberman on corruption
charges, and if that happens, the dynamic between them could change
“Bibi is waiting for Weinstein,” the source said. “It just
doesn’t make sense to fight him yet.”
An indictment is still far from a
conviction. Lieberman would not be compelled to resign, and he reiterated at his
press conference that he would not quit his post until after a hearing in which
he is given an opportunity to respond to the charges against him.
there is no doubt that an indicted Lieberman with clipped wings would be easier
to deal with than the current version of the foreign minister with a chip on his
shoulder and a party rising in the polls at the Likud’s expense.
report even suggested that Weinstein could recommend that Lieberman refrain from
appointing ambassadors until his case is decided.
THIS WEEK’S incident
was just another chapter in a long story of poor relations that goes back to
Netanyahu’s first term when Lieberman served as his
After Lieberman left the Prime Minister’s Office to
form Israel Beiteinu, he and Netanyahu reportedly barely spoke for several
One politician who knows the two very well described them as
acting like a divorced couple who are forced to communicate because they share
“They are clearly not friends,” he said. “They know too much
about each other. They have their nostalgia and understandings, but also a
strong mutual mistrust.”
Sources close to Lieberman said he doesn’t
respect Netanyahu, he doesn’t trust his decision-making, he knows his weaknesses
and he knows how to exploit them for maximum gain. They said that Lieberman has
a well-thought- out strategy to replace Netanyahu as leader of the Right and
become prime minister two elections from now despite legal hurdles
One source close to Netanyahu described him as scared by
Lieberman’s growing support among the prime minister’s political base. He noted
that a poll broadcast Tuesday night on Channel 1’s Politica found that if
elections were held now, Israel Beiteinu would rise to 17 seats.
Netanyahu associate described the prime minister’s feelings about Lieberman from
a psychological standpoint. He said that Netanyahu treats people who were his
subordinates and superiors in completely different ways.
reveres Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was his commander in the elite General
Staff Reconnaissance Unit. By contrast, he disrespects Lieberman and opposition
leader Tzipi Livni, whom he appointed to head the Government Corporations
Authority in his first term, and it irks him when they attempt to challenge his
Channel 10 caused consternation in the Prime Minister’s
Office last Friday when it broadcast footage from a closed-door Israel Beiteinu
strategy session at a Dead Sea hotel in which Lieberman was shown instructing
his MKs and activists that certain bills were worth leaving the coalition
The report seemed to give credence to a theory advanced by
political analysts Hanan Crystal and Sima Kadmon that Lieberman could decide to
look for an excuse to leave the coalition between Weinstein’s decision and his
legal hearing, because it would be the only way that he could ensure that he
would be able to run at the helm of Israel Beiteinu in the next
According to the theory, Lieberman would then help Livni form a
coalition and earn immunity from the left-wing legal establishment that would
not want to see her government replaced by the Right.
Blame it on wishful
thinking but many in the Knesset still think Lieberman will take that course of
action despite his statement clearly ruling it out at Monday’s press
“The decision of the state’s attorney will not impact whether
Israel Beiteinu leaves the coalition or stays in the coalition,” he said. “We
don’t want to mislead anyone or allow anyone to celebrate. I’ve said it dozens
of times, but I’ll say it again. We have no intention of leaving.”
STATEMENT was seen as a key warning to Netanyahu that Lieberman will continue to
hold the balance of power over his government for the foreseeable future, so he
cannot try to get away with antics like the ill-fated appointment of
What angered Lieberman was a report in Sunday’s Yisrael Hayom that
Netanyahu had decided to appoint Ambassador to Britain Ron Prosor as the next UN
ambassador and replace Prosor in London with Arad.
The report came
directly to the newspaper’s editor Amos Regev from the Prime Minister’s
Lieberman was steamed about Netanyahu trying to take credit for
Prosor, who was actually his recommendation.
He was even more upset about
the appointment of Arad being reported as a fait accompli when it was only one
of multiple options that Netanyahu and Lieberman had discussed but not decided
Fingers in the Prime Minister’s Office pointed at different sources
for the leak, with the most likely culprit being Netanyahu’s chief of staff
Natan Eshel, who is close to Regev. Netanyahu’s associates said that Arad and
the prime minister were not aware of it.
Arad only learned about the
report when he arrived back from a visit to Washington and heard on his voice
mail both congratulatory messages from London and messages from his contacts in
Washington asking why he kept such a secret from them.
Sources close to
Arad were quoted Thursday accusing people in the Prime Minister’s Office of
leading the report in order to scuttle it.
But other Netanyahu associates
said the opposite was true: Arad’s colleagues in the Prime Minister’s Office
don’t like him and desperately want him to go, so they leaked the story about
the appointment to create facts on the ground.
A third theory presented
by Netanyahu’s associates was that an aide leaked the story for the sake of
leaking it, without thinking about whether it would help or harm Arad or the
If Arad is incorrect and the leaker was not trying to
harm him, whoever he is totally misjudged Lieberman. Time and time again,
Lieberman has proven that he can accept frustration on the parliamentary level,
as his party’s agenda in the Knesset fails to advance. But undermining
Lieberman’s job as foreign minister makes him go through the roof.
last time Lieberman was this upset was when Netanyahu failed to tell him that he
had sent then-industry, trade, and labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to meet
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on June 30.
officials said Lieberman had to call the press conference to correct the untrue
reports. They said Arad was a victim in the episode, because under other
circumstances, he might have gotten the job.
Different theories abounded
about why Netanyahu and Arad were seeking to send Arad to London. One was that
after more than two decades of friendship, Netanyahu and Arad no longer saw eye
to eye, and the prime minister wanted to send him away in a dignified manner.
Another was that Arad genuinely wanted the ambassadorship in Britain, because of
its allure and intellectual challenge.
Sources close to Netanyahu said
the truth was that Arad had lately been feeling that he did not have as much
impact on Netanyahu as he used to, because of the dominating influence of Barak.
Arad had already hinted that he was leaving soon, after holding the post longer
than anyone had before.
Netanyahu’s associates were quoted Thursday as
promising to find Arad another plum position fitting of his stature, but that
might have to wait until Weinstein decides Lieberman’s fate.
LIEBERMAN will be much harder for Netanyahu. Via shuttle diplomacy between
Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s offices in the Knesset, Eshel succeeded in getting
Lieberman to at least temporarily back off on a controversial, NIS 1.5 billion
Israel Beiteinu bill that would have canceled the value added tax on
The fact that Lieberman did not push for the bill proved his
statement that he is not trying to bring the government down.
way for Netanyahu to keep Lieberman satisfied is to throw him a bone in the
Knesset. Netanyahu disagrees with much of Lieberman’s parliamentary agenda.
Barak opposes more of it.
The only issue that all three could support
without causing a crisis with the haredi parties is enabling Israelis abroad to
Representatives from the six factions in the coalition met on
Monday to discuss the so-called Omri Casspi bill allowing absentee balloting,
which is named after Sacramento Kings player who is the first Israeli in the
NBA. A Jerusalem Post story about the bill was picked up by sports websites
around the world.
Israel Beiteinu’s coalition agreement requires there to
be a vote on enabling Israelis abroad to vote. The party hopes that thousands of
Russian immigrants who returned to their motherland after unsuccessful aliya
would vote en masse for Israel Beiteinu.
Labor opposed the bill but it is
now in the opposition, and Barak’s Independence faction would be willing to back
it if it were limited to Israelis abroad for less than two years. Shas earlier
opposed giving the right to vote to Israelis abroad for more than two months,
but a compromise is in the works.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, a
close Netanyahu confidant whom he appointed to head a coalition committee
considering changes in the electoral system, asked relevant government
ministries on Monday to supply numbers of eligible Israeli voters around the
world. Netanyahu no doubt wants to know the number in Russia.
Netanyahu finds that Israel Beiteinu could gain a seat or two by passing the
bill, he will likely cooperate with Lieberman and let him gain a parliamentary
achievement to show his voters.
Netanyahu’s associates say he wants to
get along with Lieberman and keep him as satisfied as possible, whether or not
he ends up getting indicted. They said that chances are he will maintain his
silence about Lieberman press conference, despite the humiliation he
“The Christians say to turn the other cheek,” a Netanyahu
“Their numbers prove it’s not such a bad strategy. That’s
why Bibi was smart that he didn’t fire back and go to war with Lieberman.”