Prime minister rejects Labor’s call to punish FM

Despite being upset over Lieberman’s public statements on PA and Turkey, Netanyahu says "we won’t cause coalition chaos."

Lieberman growling at podium 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
Lieberman growling at podium 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not intend to take any disciplinary action against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for expressing independent views about the Palestinians and Turks in speeches at the Foreign Ministry and the UN, sources close to Netanyahu said on Monday.
Netanyahu’s associates revealed that he was upset by Lieberman’s speech to Israeli diplomats at the Foreign Ministry on Sunday, in which he dismissed any chance of achieving a peace accord with the current Palestinian leadership and mocked recent anti- Israel statements by the prime minister and foreign minister of Turkey.
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They said the remarks rekindled anger sparked by a controversial speech Lieberman delivered at the UN General Assembly in September.
But they said the prime minister would not accept the request of Labor cabinet members and the advice of critics of his administration to warn Lieberman that he and his Israel Beiteinu Party could face consequences for continuing to cross red lines.
“We know there are many people who want there to be chaos in the coalition, but we don’t intend to supply it,” a Netanyahu associate said. “The prime minister is not happy about Lieberman’s statements, which are not helpful, and he would be happy if Lieberman spoke differently, but there are coalition realities.”
Sources close to Netanyahu denied that a factor in the prime minister’s restraint toward Lieberman was Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein’s pending decision on whether to indict the foreign minister for corruption.
“It’s not because he thinks the investigation will get rid of him,” a Netanyahu associate said. “No one is building on that. Lieberman says things we don’t like, just like [Defense Minister] Ehud Barak and [Interior Minister] Eli Yishai do. This couldn’t happen in the American political system, but here in our coalition system, it can.” When Channel 10 asked Netanyahu about Lieberman in an interview on Monday night, he said, “Everyone knows that what matters are the views of the prime minister.”
The Labor faction issued a statement condemning Lieberman’s statements, which it said were incorrect, did not represent the view of the government and its coalition guidelines, and did great damage to Israel when they came from its foreign minister.
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer went further, calling Lieberman’s statements “crazy” and saying that Netanyahu must “deal with the Lieberman problem.”
“Lieberman is consistent,” Ben-Eliezer said. “The problem is with Bibi, who appointed him foreign minister. The foreign minister is supposed to speak for the country. He doesn’t speak for me. If I were prime minister, I would tell Lieberman, ‘Enough is enough. It’s not a circus.’”
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni told Army Radio that Netanyahu was not correct in saying that the foreign minister did not represent the government’s position. Rather, she said, Netanyahu was responsible for Lieberman, and his refusal to take action against him indicated that Israel required a more courageous leader.
Lieberman responded to his critics at a meeting of the Israel Beiteinu faction, saying that his speech had been at a Foreign Ministry forum in which several politicians were summoned to explain their personal belief system.
He defended his criticism of the Palestinian and Turkish leadership and vowed that Israel would not absorb blows from either one.
“One can say that you don’t have to respond to everything loudly, but by the same token, you shouldn’t ignore everything and allow yourself to become a punching bag,” Lieberman said. “We hear the other side can get away with everything and that we can’t do anything and that we have to be quiet. At this rate, we should invite the British Mandate back.”
Lieberman said that everything he said in his speech on Sunday was part of the coalition agreement Israel Beiteinu had signed with Likud.
“We are not looking for reasons to create a crisis, but we will not give up on the interests and constituency we represent, or our beliefs,” he said. “I stand behind every piece of paper I have ever signed. I hope no one is looking for reasons for complications and problems.”
Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.