By lashing out at Abbas, Lieberman targets Netanyahu
A very interesting press release was issued today by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s press secretary. The statement came in the form of a “strategic assessment” from the office of the Foreign Minister [not the foreign ministry's research department, nor the MFA's spokesman's department - but direct from Liberman's bureau] and released to all the foreign diplomatic missions in Israel [as well as simultaneously to members of the Israeli press.
The 'assessment' basically says the same things Lieberman has been saying about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the past few days in interviews to the Israeli press: Abbas is the main obstacle to peace and he should resign; Abbas is more concerned with his own place in history than with actually making peace etc. Clearly Lieberman has a bee in his bonnet about Abbas, and it may have to do with the upcoming Palestinian vote at UNESCO; and it may also have to do with increasingly rightist statements made by the leader of the opposition [who said recently that she was opposed to the Gilad Shalit deal, and, as reported by Condi Rice, was against Olmert's peace overtures to Abbas in 2007]. Lieberman may want to make sure that nobody, but nobody, outflanks him from the right.
This ‘assessment’ flies in the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official position, stated at the UN General Assembly and at every opportunity since, for Abbas to return to direct peace talks. Noticeable in its absence is any response from the Prime Minister’s Office. Only President Peres has come out in Abbas’ defense, saying the PA leadership was “serious” about making peace. From Bibi, nothing yet.
I’ll go into more depth on the assessment further down in this posting, but I think that the ‘form’ of Lieberman’s statement is more interesting than the ‘content’ of it. The medium is the message, if you will. And the message, which comes across loud and clear, is that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is charting his own diplomatic course, veering away from the official positions of the Prime Minister’s Office.
The ‘assessment’ released today says more about what Lieberman thinks of Prime Minister Nentanyahu than what he thinks of President Mahmoud Abbas. Lieberman is saying these nasty things about Abbas because he knows Bibi won’t fire him or call him to order. Bibi can’t fire Lieberman, unless he’s willing to jettison Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu’s party and bring Kadima into the coalition, which he doesn’t want to do [Livni won't do it either unless Bibi agrees to resume substantive peace talks]. If and when Netanyahu does decide to fire his wayward foreign minister, Lieberman can make a play for the more right wing elements of the Likud, the National Religious Party, as well as others, and head into the next elections as the official representative of the Right. Bibi fears this more than anything else, and is loathe to see Lieberman, his one-time employee, as the champion of the Right, heading into elections.
But as I’ve written before, the ‘loose-cannon’ Lieberman wants to be Prime Minister, and there are many here who don’t see this possibility as purely science fiction. His ambition lies beyond merely the Foreign Ministry, a position he has manifestly failed to do anything in since he took office [Lieberman is effectively persona non grata anywhere it counts - in America, Egypt, Turkey, and many other serious nations, and has even failed to sway Moscow from any meaningful anti-Israeli positions]. He has no significant victories as foreign minister to take with him into the next elections. Likewise, he has no legislative accomplishments to speak of either: his loyalty oath bill is extremely controversial and its actualization incomplete, and his promises of civil marriage legislation have all but been abandoned. In short, the only option left to him is to attack Netanyahu from the Right, and expand his voter base with the right wing hardcore and those against a two-state solution.
And a perfect place to start is to hit Abbas over the head. Which brings us to the report Lieberman’s office released today. It’s interesting to note that Lieberman’s office calls Abbas ‘Chairman” of the PA, whereas most of the international community calls Abbas “President.” Here is the gist of today’s assessment:
“The Palestinian Authority, headed by Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, has adamantly refused to engage in direct negotiations, pursuing an increasingly hostile, confrontational and unilateral approach. This conduct has effectively blocked any possibility for political progress and, if left unchecked, could endanger the vital economic and security cooperation which exists on the ground between the sides….Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other senior Palestinian officials have consistently exploited the fact that the Netanyahu Government is perceived as hard-line, in order to advance their attempts to delegitimize Israel and tarnish its image internationally….. Chairman Abbas’ prolonged eschewal of dialogue and preference for unilateralism, underscored by his recent bid for independence through the UN, coupled with his unabashed drive for unity with Hamas, are inimical to Palestinian interests, as many senior Palestinian officials have readily conceded….these policies cannot be understood other than as a means of furthering Chairman Abbas’ own personal agenda, particularly with regard to ensuring his historical ‘legacy’. In this regard, it should be clear today, beyond a doubt, that Chairman Abbas has no interest in achieving an agreement with Israel, irrespective of which government holds office in Israel….In view of the upheavals in the Arab world and the fate of his close peers, especially the former presidents of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, Chairman Abbas is apparently seeking a dignified exit from the political scene. In this regard, his energies are focused on ensuring that he be seen as the Palestinian leader who led to the establishment of a Palestinian state and achieved internal unity between Fatah and Hamas. This explains why his positions concerning Jerusalem, the refugees and Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are so hard-line, even more so than Yasser Arafat’s. These positions are not designed to attain compromise solutions. They are, rather, intended to deliberately instigate friction and conflict with Israel.”