Shalev: Liberman conflict with PM may be for show

Former UN ambassador says government officials have "talking heads syndrome," predisposing them to contradicting each other.

GABRIELA SHALEV 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Former UN ambassador Prof. Gabriela Shalev said she is “not sure that there is a true conflict between” policy statements made by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
She added that the perceived conflict is likely just for public consumption.
Shalev was referring to the current media and diplomatic uproar over recent comments by Liberman about the need to push out Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who Liberman does not consider a real peace partner. Netanyahu subsequently disavowed his statement, claiming it does not represent Israeli policy.
Shalev said that “Netanyahu gains from showing the world that there are even less moderate voices in his government.”
Even if Netanyahu may privately agree with Liberman on some of his controversial initiatives, she said, the prime minister can distance himself publicly and “show himself to the world as a more moderate voice.”
Against this backdrop, Shalev, speaking on Wednesday at a conference for foreign students on international law sponsored by the organization StandWithUs, criticized the phenomenon of “talking heads” in Israel in which top officials like the foreign minister make policy statements against that of the prime minister and the government.
In her remarks at the conference, she said that while ambassador to the UN – where she served until 2010 – she somewhat envied the US foreign policy apparatus in which, more often than not, all of the White House and foreign affairs officials speak with one voice.
In her comments to the Post, Shalev added that Liberman making remarks opposing the state’s official policy can make “performing the job of ambassador very difficult.”
Shalev – who is currently president of the Higher Academic Council and dean of the Faculty of Law at Ono Academic College in Kiryat Ono – mentioned other instances where Liberman has contradicted Netanyahu’s policy, such as saying peace would not be possible for a long-time after the prime minister’s famous Bar-Ilan speech in favor of pushing for the twostate solution.
In some of Liberman’s remarks to the UN, Shalev said, she had the impression that he was “representing his party Yisrael Beytenu to the world and not the State of Israel.”
Despite policy differences with Liberman, Shalev said that while ambassador she always “felt and knew she had full freedom” and that in personal contacts with Liberman he was “always a gentleman.” She also said that especially representing Israel at a body like the UN, she never felt that he, or any other politician, was really her boss.
Rather, she believed that her boss was whatever she believed to be in the best interests of the State of Israel.
Asked if she believed Liberman was qualified to be foreign minister, she said that Israel is a “democratic state, there were elections, Netanyahu is the prime minister and he has the right to form a government.”
She continued her answer saying that Yisrael Beytenu is a “big, important party, many people trust Netanyahu as a leader.” But she also stated that a “foreign minister should express more positive, balanced attitudes” towards the world and the peace process.