No to Lieberman

I honestly think many of the Arabs in Abu Ghosh are not only better neighbors than Lieberman, but that some of them would even make better foreign ministers.

311_Lieberman's views on diplomacy (cartoon) (photo credit: Channon Bar)
311_Lieberman's views on diplomacy (cartoon)
(photo credit: Channon Bar)
I REMEMBER STILL WITH TINGLING EXCITEMENT THAT winter afternoon in early 1971 when the postman arrived at my parents’ home with the news that I had been accepted by the Foreign Ministry. My elation was dwarfed by that of my parents. The fact that their son would serve as a diplomat under the much admired Abba Eban, the then-foreign minister, seemed to them, refugees from Hitler’s Germany, a dream come true.
I also vividly remember the much less elevating moment, when, almost 40 years later, I went to the post office near my home in Mevasseret Zion and sent my diplomatic passport back to the Foreign Ministry by registered mail. I did so in protest at the undiplomatic conduct and policies of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the man who today occupies Abba Eban’s once revered office. My only consolation was that my proud parents, who had died in the interim, were spared this twin grief. I returned my diplomatic passport a few days after my good friend, the Turkish ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, was deliberately seated on a low stool as part of Israel’s brilliant new-style diplomacy. The move, meant to humiliate and punish the ambassador over criticism of Israel in his country, backfired, leading to his recall from Israel and further strains in the already fragile ties with the Turks.
Over the past three decades, I have been closely acquainted with dozens of Turkish diplomats and hundreds of others from all over the world.
Celikkol was the most sensitive, polite and soft-spoken of them all. The disrespectful treatment he received was an early sign writ large of the bankruptcy of Israeli diplomacy under Lieberman.
A few weeks ago in late September, we were treated to another wondrous spectacle by Israel’s top diplomat. On the podium of the UN’s General Assembly, Lieberman announced that it would take decades to reach peace with the Palestinians, and outlined a policy totally at variance with that of the government of which he is supposed to be the chief spokesman. The disgrace of the foreign minister, with the whole world looking on, savagely contradicting his prime minister, who had spoken on the same international stage just a few days earlier, sullies us all, not only Benjamin Netanyahu.
But what worries me more is the substance of Lieberman’s proposals at the UN, primarily the “exchange of territories and populations” policy he outlined there. Once we used to call ideas for expelling Palestinian citizens of Israel “transfer.” But when it transpired that transfer was illegal, creative ideas for getting round the legal obstacles emerged. The Lieberman proposal looks very much like one of these.
As far as I know, there is not a single democratic leader in the 21st century ready to entertain an “exchange of territories and populations” between Israel and the Palestinians. The subject has never been discussed between the parties themselves or in any self-respecting international forum. The Palestinian citizens of Israel proclaim on every possible platform that they firmly oppose the idea. The days of population transfers by that or any other name are over, at least in the democratic world.
Moreover, apart from the inherent injustice and the potential violation of human rights, I am concerned that the foreign minister of my country is so out of touch with international realities that he has the gall to stand up in the UN and outline a policy that no one in the world, besides him and his party, sees as a realistic option for solving the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
Lieberman’s proposal contradicts the essence of the current peace process, which is being conducted on the basis of “land for peace” and is at a very delicate, perhaps even critical, stage. The entire international community is involved through the “Quartet” – the US, EU, Russia and the UN – and the peacemaking effort is being led by an American president who has invested considerable time and energy. Lieberman, though, doesn’t seem to care a whit. His mind is already on the next Israeli election and the votes of those Israelis who dream about waking up in a country without Arabs.
Lieberman wants a country for Jews only. But the fact is there are one and a half million Arabs in Israel proper, most of whom were here long before he came, and who have no intention of going anywhere else. To tell the truth, I like some of those Arabs far more than Lieberman. For example, I would not want to swap my neighbors in Abu Ghosh for someone like him, not even for a pot of gold. And it’s not because I don’t want to give up the wonderful hummus they make in Abu Ghosh. I honestly think many of the Arabs in Abu Ghosh are not only better neighbors than Lieberman, but that some of them would even make better foreign ministers.
Alon Liel, a former chargé d’affaires in Turkey and ambassador to South Africa,was director general of the Foreign Ministry between 2000-2001, during Ehud Barak’s term as prime minister.