Analysis: Liberman trying to prove his centrist cred

The foreign minister clearly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he said “standing in place is dangerous for Israel.”

December 17, 2014 03:36
3 minute read.
Avigdor Liberman

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman continued to look toward the center of the political map with his statement about Israel needing to take a diplomatic initiative Tuesday.

While calling for the government to go on a diplomatic offensive is not an inherently Right, Left or centrist statement, Liberman clearly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he said “standing in place is dangerous for Israel.”

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“We cannot sit with folded arms and only say why we are opposed. The lack of an Israeli initiative will further lead to a deterioration of Israel’s standing internationally,” Liberman said.

The statement was yet another part of the Yisrael Beytenu leader’s efforts to erase the party’s image as a right-wing satellite of the Likud, after it sat loyally in Netanyahu’s coalition in the 18th Knesset and ran in a joint list with the Likud for the 19th, and build credibility behind attempts to position himself as a centrist.

This shift in Liberman’s self-portrayal comes after high-profile clashes with the prime minister, which led him to split the joint Likud Beytenu list as Operation Protective Edge began.

Then, before the current election was called, but when it was clearly on the horizon, Liberman highlighted his “peace plan” in a new Yisrael Beytenu platform describing what has been his position on the Palestinian issue all along. The platform called for a two-state solution with population and land swaps.

In other words, Israeli Arabs would become Palestinian citizens, and some would even be paid to do so. Areas with large Arab populations near the Green Line would become part of the Palestinian state.

This weekend, Liberman said that he would not rule out sitting in a government led by Labor leader Isaac Herzog – which, after two years, would be led by Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni.

“I don’t disqualify anyone,” he added, pointing out that he also sat in former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s government, even though his voters disagreed with Olmert on many issues.

Last week, Yesh Atid’s former welfare minister Meir Cohen said the Yisrael Beytenu leader was negotiating a joint list with Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, a rumor that Liberman and Kahlon’s camps denied, but served the purpose of painting the foreign minister as part of the centrist bloc and not the Right.

Liberman sarcastically brought up the rumor in Tuesday’s statement, saying that the world is not waiting for Israel to deal with “fateful” issues of which politicians are uniting and which are splitting up.

Despite all these efforts to move to the center, Liberman made sure not to totally divorce himself from his usual partners, though the messages he sent on that theme may not be very reassuring to Netanyahu.

Liberman only had faint praise for the prime minister, saying Sunday he respects him despite their falling-out.

The Yisrael Beytenu leader told Walla News the “national camp” – read: the Right – has more than one candidate for prime minister, clearly referring to himself. Liberman also said he’s proud to be part of the national camp, pointing out that he lives in Nokdim in the West Bank.

Yet, he did not back down from his willingness to sit in a government not led by the Right.

If there’s any proof that Liberman’s centrist bid is starting to work, it is from the responses that came to his Tuesday statement. Livni praised him from the Left, while on the Right, Dani Dayan, former chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip and current Bayit Yehudi primary candidate, accused him of self-flagellation. That puts Liberman squarely in the middle.

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