Likud: Netanyahu yet to decide on foreign minister

Senior Likud officials says PM has not yet decided if Lapid or Liberman will be FM; Ayalon: Lapid should get job, not Liberman.

Netanyahu at Knesset swear in 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Netanyahu at Knesset swear in 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will make the final decision on whether his foreign minister will be Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman or Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, senior Likud officials said on Saturday night following a statement by Liberman that the job would be saved for him.
Liberman told Channel 2’s Meet the Press program on Saturday night that the deal he reached with Netanyahu in October gave him the right to choose among the government’s top three portfolios and he prefers to return to the Foreign Ministry.
Mocking Lapid without mentioning him by name, Liberman said Netanyahu would hold the job for him until the end of his legal problems and not give it to anyone else.
“The Foreign Ministry will remain with Yisrael Beytenu,” Liberman said.
“Those who want to contribute to the State of Israel and those who asked throughout the campaign ‘Where’s the money?’ apparently will go toward the money, which is in the Finance Ministry and not the Foreign Ministry.” Lapid’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper column was called “Where’s the money?” Liberman said he would not have a problem with former foreign minister MK Tzipi Livni, with whom he spoke on Saturday, being given a title that would enable her to deal with the peace process, something that Netanyahu ruled out during the campaign.
But senior Likud sources said that despite the commitments and statements Netanyahu made in the past, he would decide what would happen with the Foreign Ministry at the proper time, based on the circumstances that exist then. They said it was too soon to say what Netanyahu would do, because the prime minister has not made a final decision yet.
The Likud sources said Netanyahu would take into account the challenge of keeping the Foreign Ministry for himself in a cabinet that will have much fewer ministers and a coalition that may start with more than 80 MKs.
They said he would also consider the poor showing of Likud Beytenu in the January 22 election and the strong possibility that Liberman would not be cleared of the charges of fraud and breach of trust that he was indicted for in December.
Former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon advised Netanyahu in weekend interviews and at a lecture in Holon to appoint Lapid as foreign minister and not Liberman, due to the many mistakes that he said Liberman made during his nearly four years in the post.
Ayalon, whose term ended when the new Knesset was sworn in on Tuesday, said that while it made sense to appoint Liberman four years ago due to his success in the 2009 election, now it should be obvious that he should not be appointed foreign minister again.
“It would be strange [to appoint Liberman], and it would harm Israel and its image,” Ayalon told Army Radio. “After the last term, that should be obvious to everyone with eyes in their head. Making him foreign minister again would not be learning from experience.”
Ayalon, whom Liberman left off the Yisrael Beytenu candidates list for the current Knesset, blasted his performance as foreign minister, while defending his own work as his deputy.
“There was no reason for [the international community] to talk to him when he would not deal with key issues,” Ayalon said. “He was seen as irrelevant. I tried to rehabilitate things. On certain things I succeeded.”
At the speech in Holon, Ayalon said that in the four years that he served as Liberman’s deputy, he felt a duty to defend him, when across the world Liberman “was treated like a leper.”
He said that out of respect he would not repeat what he had heard said of Liberman, but added that the Yisrael Beytenu leader’s undiplomatic statements did not help the international community’s view of him.
“Liberman’s diplomatic approach did not prove itself and did not help Liberman get accepted by the world,” Ayalon told Yediot Aharonot.
“The greatest damage that he did happened when he said things and didn’t stand by them. Liberman spoke about toppling Hamas and even put it in the coalition guidelines but during Operation Pillar of Defense, it did not happen.
This harmed his credibility.
“He said that if [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas goes to the United Nations, Israel will topple the PA, and that didn’t happen either. His statements harmed Israel’s deterrence and made Liberman irrelevant in the international arena,” Ayalon said.
Ayalon said Liberman also made a mistake with President Vladimir Putin when he pandered to him by saying that the election in Russia was “kosher.”
“He even admitted to me in closed conversations that he made a mistake,” Ayalon said.
“Liberman only strengthened the stereotypes that were against him in the Western world that he is a dictator and he is a subject of Putin.”
Ayalon said it was also a mistake to announce the advancement of the E1 construction plan in the undeveloped area of Ma’aleh Adumim following the UN’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state as a non-member observer.
He blamed Liberman for the crisis with Ankara following an incident where the Turkish ambassador was placed on a low chair when he scolded him for an anti-Israel television show on Turkish TV. He said the crisis got out of hand because Liberman did not let him apologize immediately after his comments – when he did not think cameras were running – led the news.
“In retrospect I regret that my apology did not come sooner,” Ayalon told Yediot Aharonot. “I wanted to put out an apology immediately after the report, but Liberman opposed it so our message came out only after a few hours. If it depended on me, I would have apologized before it became a crisis.
Even after I apologized, it didn’t help and the crisis continued and deepened.
The Turks don’t even remember [that I apologized].”
Ayalon revealed that he still had no idea why he was left off Yisrael Beytenu’s slate of candidates. He said Liberman had never given a proper explanation to him or senior party officials. He said a week before the decision, the party’s selection committee members told him explicitly that they were debating between putting him fourth or fifth on the list and that he thought that based on his experience and training as an economist, the Industry, Trade and Labor portfolio would be an ideal fit for him.
At the request of the Attorney- General’s Office, Ayalon did not comment on the case against Liberman, for which he is a star witness.
Liberman responded to Channel 2 that Ayalon “spoke about me in superlatives for four years. Only since I told him he was not on the list and explained why have I have heard bad things from him, especially via the police. Now I am glad I left him off the list.”
Ayalon told Army Radio that in the Channel 2 interview, Liberman was “rewriting history” and that he had “lost his marbles.”
Tamara Zieve contributed to this report. •