Has Liberman gone soft? Israel's foreign minister doesn't think so

Yisrael Beytenu chief gave interview to Channel 2, during which he insisted that it's the media's perception of him that has changed, not him.

Liberman raising fist 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Liberman raising fist 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Has the man viewed for years as one of the Israeli right’s most controversial, incendiary politicians changed his spots? Not if you ask him.
During an interview with Channel 2 on Friday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman insists it’s the media’s attitude toward him that has undergone a “turnaround,” but not his view of the world.
A string of recent statements by the foreign minister – who expressed his appreciation for US Secretary of State John Kerry while admonishing the pro-settler Bayit Yehudi party and its chairman, Naftali Bennett, for zeroing in on Kerry due to his persistent push for Israeli-Palestinian peace – raised eyebrows considering how un-Libermanesque they were.
“Turnaround?” Liberman told Channel 2. “Depends which one. I think the turnaround has taken place within the press, not with Avigdor Liberman. Whoever adheres to the facts can examine what I’ve said in the past and compare it to what I’ve said recently. I haven’t discovered anything new.”
“At my advanced age, perhaps the tone has changed somewhat,” the Yisrael Beytenu chief told Channel 2. “I no longer have the same energy that I used to when I was younger, but the essence is the same essence. I’ve always had excellent relations with the United States, even in the previous term when Kerry was in the Senate.”
Liberman was then asked if his relative moderation had anything to do with his wish to one day ascend to the premiership.
“You can’t be boring as a politician,” he said. “I read a lot of rumors and speculation in the press, some of them are sheer science fiction and most of it is just detached from reality. At the moment, my wish is to be the best foreign minister I could be. If [Yisrael Beytenu] wins enough Knesset seats, everything is wide open.”
“I’ve never ruled out anything and I don’t have an obsession over anything,” Liberman said. “Being prime minister is an option, but I don’t obsess over it. I wasn’t born a member of Knesset or a minister, so I take everything in the right proportion.”
When asked about US President Barack Obama’s assessment that peace talks with the Palestinians have a 50 percent chance of success, Liberman refused to disagree.
“We will not compromise on the issue of security, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and [denying] the right of return,” he said. “The rest depends on the other side.”
When asked about the prospects of renewed, normalized ties with Turkey, Liberman once again displayed a more moderate approach.
“We are ready for an agreement, but we will not compromise on our vital interests,” he said. “Our approach is a pragmatic one. If we can reach a deal, we’ll do it. If not, then we won’t.”