Shoval: World will learn to embrace Netanyahu

Likud's veteran diplomat says there was genuine chemistry between party's chairman and Obama.

netanyahu bibi boyish 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
netanyahu bibi boyish 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has spent the last few years cultivating his relations with world leaders in preparation for a return to the premiership, according to Zalman Shoval, who heads the Likud's foreign affairs bureau and serves as a diplomatic adviser to Netanyahu. Shoval, a former ambassador to the United States, participated in Netanyahu's meeting in July with then-US presidential candidate Barack Obama. He said that there had been genuine chemistry between them and that the same had been true in meetings he attended between Netanyahu and the leaders of France, England and Germany. "When Menachem Begin took over as prime minister, the international press was horrible," recalled Shoval, who was a Likud MK at the time. "A German newspaper even said he would break off his relations with Germany and that there would be a war soon. But after a few days it changed. Netanyahu will set the course of the government, and the world will have to deal with the new reality." Shoval could return to playing a more central role in explaining Israel's policies abroad if he comes back to the Knesset. He was the first candidate to register to run in the December 8 Likud primary, and at 78, he is probably the oldest candidate. Netanyahu gave Shoval a warm endorsement. At a recent political event, he said former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon was Israel's No. 1 soldier, and that Shoval was Israel's No. 1 diplomat. Shoval was sent on his first diplomatic mission by former prime minister David Ben-Gurion to Cyprus during the 1956 war in the Sinai. He served as an MK from 1970 to 1981 and then again from 1988 to 1990. He was Israel's ambassador to the US twice in the 1990s. "I decided to run even though I didn't feel a personal need to get back into politics, because there aren't too many people in Israel who have more than 40 years of diplomatic experience, and that's a big asset to the Likud," Shoval said. The diplomatic challenges ahead, according to Shoval, will be persuading the world to act against Iran and not to repeat the mistakes of the Oslo diplomatic process, the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the Annapolis process. He said he believed Obama would not want to continue with the Annapolis process, to distinguish himself from current president George W. Bush. "Presidents don't usually want to continue the legacy of their predecessors," Shoval said. Shoval said he had explained to the president's advisers that ironically there was more of a chance for progress on the diplomatic front with a strong center-right government than a weak center-left government. He said that only a center-right government would have the support of the people on the diplomatic issue. He said he had heard through the grapevine that following Obama's trip to Israel, the presidential candidate had said his most practical meeting had been the one with Netanyahu. "The relations between Netanyahu and Obama will come down to their mutual interests," Shoval said. "Neither wants to be a one-term leader, so both will be inclined to proffer new ideas."