The upcoming election is a race between the utopian Left, the pragmatic national camp and the “extreme fanatical national camp that ignores reality,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday, declaring himself the representative of the pragmatists.
Liberman, speaking at a Tel Aviv conference sponsored by the Calcalist financial newspaper, repeated what he said a night earlier during a speech at Tel Aviv University – words apparently aimed at boosting his pragmatic credentials – that there was a direct connection these days between economic and diplomatic relations, with the implication that one impacts heavily on the other.
At the outset of his 10-minute address, Liberman said he did not know anything about the swirling allegations concerning corruption in his Yisrael Beytenu party beyond what already had been reported in the press in the morning.
Liberman picked up on a theme he posited the previous day, saying Israel must reach a diplomatic agreement because it is important for relations with the European Union and the US.
“For anyone who doesn’t know, our largest market is the EU in both exports and imports. I’m pleased with what we’ve done with the Chinese; there’s been growth in our trade with them. But in the end, our biggest market is the EU,” Haaretz reported him saying in the Tel Aviv University speech.
He said the EU sanctions against Russia, and the impact that has had on the Russian economy, was an indication of how economics and diplomacy were related.
On Wednesday, he again referenced the EU sanctions on Russia, saying, “We are seeing how the changes in relations between states influence the economy.”
Therefore, he said, “When I speak about economics and policy, we have to understand that our biggest market, both import and export, is Europe. We cannot ignore that fact.”
Liberman distilled the various diplomatic approaches in the country to the following: The classic approach of the Left that pursued the Oslo track, which led nowhere; the approach he said was being advocated by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett that he claimed would lead to one-state for two nations; those who sanctify the status quo and want to “sit and do nothing”; and his approach, which he said is defined as a wider regional approach to the conflict.
“You can’t win if you don’t initiate,” Liberman said, adding that Israel could not afford to sit with “folded arms” on the diplomatic track, but must take the initiative.
The only possible agreement that could work, he said, would be a wider regional arrangement that would simultaneously arrange Israel’s relations with the moderate Arab states, Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians.
An arrangement with just the Palestinians, he said, would only lead to a further deterioration of the situation and more violence. He did not, however, spell out in any detail what type of arrangement he had in mind regarding the Arab states, Israeli Arabs or Palestinians beyond mentioning in passing his plan for an exchange of territory and populations.
That idea, which he has articulated in the past, entails redrawing Israel’s borders in such a way that the majority of Israeli Arabs would be taken into a future Palestinian state, and the majority of settlers would be included in Israel’s final borders.
During his comments, Liberman responded to Likud officials accusing him of drifting Left, reminding them that it was Likud ministers, not those from Yisrael Beytenu, who voted in favor of former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
“No right-winger from Ra’anana or Gush Dan should preach to a right-winger from Nokdim [the settlement in Judea where Liberman lives],” he said. “I know exactly where at the moment of truth the Likud cabinet and Knesset members will be, and where will be those from Yisrael Beytenu.”
Liberman was followed to the podium by Hatnua head Tzipi Livni who said she first wanted to welcome Liberman “to the place where we have been for a long time,” stating that some of what he said is what she has been saying and working toward for many years.
Livni went on the attack against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying his “dream coalition” of Bennett and the haredim is Israel’s “nightmare coalition,” which will lead to a worsening of the security situation; religious and nationalist extremism; sectoral and settlement budget allocation; a diplomatic stalemate; and international isolation.
Livni claimed that her unification with the Labor Party has “returned hope to Israel and its citizens.”
The decision facing voters, she said, was between two Israels – the one she represents: Zionist; Jewish; democratic; open to the world; based on the Declaration of Independence; the state of the Jewish people where all its citizens have equal rights; and the other Israel. The one where she said Netanyahu is leading is “a settlement, messianic state, extreme nationalist, based on halacha, with a sectoral economy.”
Livni said Netanyahu has no solution to Israel’s growing political isolation, but only “great sound-bytes, confident rhetoric, in a tone warning Israel of the threats – you will always find in his speeches anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.”
What Netanyahu really means with this rhetoric, she said, is “I cannot solve the problems and must scare the nation and create unity against those against us.”
Livni said Netanyahu will blame everyone and – at a moment of distress – will pull out the same card that appears in every campaign: Jerusalem.
“This time it appeared earlier than usual,” she said.
“Usually, it appears during the election ads, and believe me I know because I was in the Likud’s campaign staff in ’96 and ’99, and I know exactly how cynically this card is pulled out before the elections. But this time the public in Israel won’t buy it.”
Netanyahu on Tuesday chided Livni for claiming earlier this week that the Western Wall will remain forever in Israel’s hands, hinting that under her plans Jews will need armored personnel carriers to reach the site.