Will Avigdor Lieberman’s return as Israeli Foreign Minister scupper Talks with Palestinians?

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far, far right nationalist Yisrael Beitenu Party in Israel (which is currently merged with the equally right wing Likud Party), was acquitted of corruption charges and then quickly sworn in as Foreign Minister on Monday.

Lieberman is dedicated to annexing the Palestinian West Bank and dismisses Palestine leader Mahmoud Abbas as a “terrorist” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” (the sheep being the Israeli left and others who agree to talk to Abbas). His return as foreign minister may well be the nail in the coffin of the limping negotiations begun by Secretary of State John Kerry between the Israelis and Palestinians this fall. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was already being attacked by Likud cabinet ministers for releasing some Palestinian prisoners. Now critiques of the negotiations and of compromise will have an uber-hard-liner on the cabinet to back them up.

Lieberman is a notorious flame-thrower and if he were a European politician would almost certainly be considered too far right to be legitimate (Greece has stripped the far-right members of the Golden Dawn in parliament of their parliamentary immunity, and the French elite is dead set against allowing Marine LePen to come to power.)

Lieberman has been absent from the cabinet during the past year while on trial for corruption, the foreign minister portfolio held in a sort of escrow by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Here is part of what I wrote when Lieberman first became FM in 2009:

Avigdor Lieberman, the Moldovan night club bouncer, is now foreign minister of Israel. [The charge against Iran that it threatened to wipe Israel off the map is untrue.] In contrast, Lieberman has actually threatened to wipe at least two countries, Egypt and Palestine, off the map. Monstrously, he suggested bombing the Aswan Dam, which would have the effect of murdering all 80 million Egyptians and sweeping them into the Mediterranean in a vast continental African tsunami.

Lieberman promptly announced on assuming office that the Mideast peace process is dead. Well, at least we have an outbreak of frankness.
… Lieberman is a Central/Eastern European ultra-nationalist in the mold of Slobodan Milosevic and Jorg Haider, and it is shameful that he was allowed into the government and more shameful that this travesty has passed without a peep in the civilized world.

The The Electronic Intifada lists “Some of Avigdor Lieberman’s infamous statements”:

‘ # In 1998, Lieberman called for the flooding of Egypt by bombing the Aswan Dam in retaliation for Egyptian support for Yasser Arafat.

# In 2001, as Minister of National Infrastructure, Lieberman proposed that the West Bank be divided into four cantons, with no central Palestinian government and no possibility for Palestinians to travel between the cantons.

# In 2002, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth quoted Lieberman in a Cabinet meeting saying that the Palestinians should be given an ultimatum that “At 8am we’ll bomb all the commercial centers … at noon we’ll bomb their gas stations … at two we’ll bomb their banks …”

# In 2003, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Lieberman called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide the buses to take them there.

# In May 2004, Lieberman proposed a plan that called for the transfer of Israeli territory with Palestinian populations to the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, Israel would annex the major Jewish settlement blocs on the Palestinian West Bank. If applied, his plan would strip roughly one-third of Israel’s Palestinian citizens of their citizenship. A “loyalty test” would be applied to those who desired to remain in Israel. This plan to trade territory with the Palestinian Authority is a revision of Lieberman’s earlier calls for the forcible transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel from their land. Lieberman stated in April 2002 that there was “nothing undemocratic about transfer.”

# Also in May 2004, he said that 90 percent of Israel’s 1.2 million Palestinian citizens would “have to find a new Arab entity” in which to live beyond Israel’s borders. “They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost,” he said.

# In May 2006, Lieberman called for the killing of Arab members of Knesset who meet with members of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.’


End/ (Not Continued)

20 Responses

  1. Labelled by some as the “Jewish Hitler”. He was formerly a card-carrying member of the Kach Party founded by Meir Kahane.

    The Kach Party was outlawed and he joined Yisrael Beitenu. The latter party was notoriously known for nominating former IDF officer and MK Esterina Tartman as a cabinet minister. She openly called the prospective appointment of the first Arab muslim cabinet minister as a blow to the “tree trunk” of Israel as a Jewish state; it was also the party founded by Revaham Ben Ze’evi, a former general who advocated targeted extrajudicial killings of Palestinians.

    Avigdor Lieberman has actually been praised by many Arabs for his forthright and open opinions about dealing with the Palestinians – rather than insincere ramblings that they feel most Israeli politicians produce for international consumption.

    I have no doubt that the acquittal will be worn as a badge of honor symbolizing his victory over perceived political grandstanding by the prosecution.

    He is hardly viewed at as a kook among Israelis or American Jewry – U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman once posed for a snapshot with him.

    I feel that Lieberman may be Israel’s next prime minister.

  2. Max Blumenthal’s portraits of MK Avigdor Lieberman in Goliath are profoundly disturbing. Bad to see the latter back in government. Would be good to see you weigh in on Mr. Blumenthal’s book, Dr. Cole.

    They sure didn’t waste any time getting him back in there, did they?

    Doesn’t Tzipi Livni have the Palestinian negotiation portfolio, for what it is worth?

  3. Given Lieberman’s track record, I think Netanyahu’s government will still be the same( if not worse); continuing their far right and expansionist agenda, maltreating the Palestinians and Arab Israelis, increased settlement building, more threats against Iran.
    Likud can call itself centre-right, but their collaboration with a racist, expansionist and far right party (Yisrael Beitenu), and Lieberman’s clout in the Netanyahu government (having a relatively high post of foreign minister), just shows His government’s ideology as similar to the European Far right parties.

  4. “Avigador Lieberman, the Moldovan night club bouncer,…” Oh, Professor Cole, you have a wicked sense of humor. But I really got a charge out of that biographical tidbit. And I didn’t even know Moldova had any night club. So you take teach an old dog new tricks.

    But to be serious for a moment, I have a question for you: How do you interpret the French Minister Laurent Fabius’s rationale and complaint about the negotiations with Iran in Geneva that the proposed deal on the table was “a fool’s game?”

  5. Israel’s political leaders seem to go S. Hersh’s “Samson Option”. That would be a disaster for Israelis, the Jews and the world.

    • The Samson Option is actually a variation of the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) theory advanced by Manhattan Project nuclear scientist John Von Neumann.

      Israeli leadership, beginning with David Ben-Gurion sought a nuclear-armed Israel. Israel collaborated with Edward Teller in attempting to elevate its atomic program. Ben-Gurion liked the fact that many of the scientists of the Manhattan Project weere Jewish and felt they could hlp Israel.

  6. Juan,

    You calling Likud far far right reveals a shallow understanding of Israeli politics. The far right in Israel is Habayit Hayeudi. Research further and tell me if I’m wrong?


    • It depends on your point of view.

      From within Israel, Labor may appear to be center-left given the scales are tipped by all the Likudniks and beyond.

      Viewed from most places in the world not currently involved in permanent military occupations in such a blatant way, the policies of the Labor party clearly fall under the far right category. The parties beyond Likud can’t be seen from the center without binoculars.

      Since we are a social species, we often want to find people who think like we do. So there is the temptation to equate the spectrum of policy in two countries and then look for a corresponding slice to ally with. Indeed you will quickly find people in Israel who think like you about the price of housing. Palestinian human rights are very different, sadly you will easily find “centrists” Israelis who are matter-of-factly denying them their rights, if not their humanity, and support their ongoing dispossession.

    • Likud is far-right.

      Habayit Hayeudi is wacky-way-out-right.

      It is a matter of degrees, but on the main point Cole is correct i.e. both Likud and HH are so far out to the right that they can’t even **see** the centre from where they are standing.

      It’s just that HH is so far to the right of the far-right Likud that they can barely see even Netanyahu from where they are standing.

  7. Will Lieberman’s return scuttle the talks? Could happen. Don’t know how he would scupper the talks though.

  8. Dear Juan,

    Following up on your writing today, “Avigdor Lieberman, the Moldovan night club bouncer, is now foreign minister of Israel. [The charge against Iran that it threatened to wipe Israel off the map is untrue.]”, would you consider writing a brief letter to the New York Times refuting this charge which keeps coming up over and over again even though it has been pointed out numerous times that it was a mistranslation (perhaps intentional) of a statement by Ahmandinejad. In today’s NYT here is Roger Cohen writing: “For a country like Iran that has threatened Israel with destruction and engaged in international terrorism, the bar must be much higher on the right to low-level, highly monitored, peaceful enrichment.” Please consider writing such a letter. It would be doing a great service.

    My thanks and best regards,

  9. End/ (Not Continued

    Looks like an incomplete tag – it probably is too much to ask for those sentiments to be done with and a thing of the past ;-)

    Max Blumenthal’s new book Goliath gives some background on Netanyahu, Lieberman, and Bennett going back to their days in the Likud youth… so in a sense they really are all branches of Likud, running under 2-3 party names (actually 4 including Tzipi Livni). Too much continuity for not continuing with the escalation of the dispossession policies it would seem.

    (Unfortunately also with the so-called Labor party whose main distinction is being smart enough to tone it down for international audiences)

    • Tzipi Livin’s father was a Knesset member who had served in the Irgun terror gang before joining the Israel Defense Forces.

      He insisted on having the emblem of the Irgun on his gravestone as he was proud of his service with that organization.

  10. Netanyahu had his own corruption case, as I recall.

    Are Israel’s right-wing politicians especially corrupt, or is this ordinary in Israeli politics?

    • Well, Olmert was dismissed over a corruption scandal, so I don’t know that it is just the right. Though at least they prosecute them, which is more than a lot of countries can say..

  11. Many commentators have expressed the belief that Israel through the Likud party is destroying itself from within. Lieberman may just speed the process.

  12. “He is hardly viewed at as a kook among Israelis or American Jewry – U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman once posed for a snapshot with him.”

    Rumsfeld posed for a snapshot and a hand shake with Saddam Hussein also. Didn’t save Saddam, unfortunately didn’t hurt Rumsfeld.

    I’d expect no less from the Senator of the Sinai. Lieberman is a good reason to re-visit the naturalized citizen verbage in the Constitution. Anyone automatically eligible to a foreign passport should not ever be in line to the Presidency. I thought the grandfathering in of Alex Hamilton settled that issue.

    Sorry for putting two separate issues into one comment.

  13. Avigdor Lieberman was recently in the news here in South Africa, calling for all South African Jews to emigrate in order to escape an imminent ANC-led pogrom.

    The trigger for this bizarre claim was publication of an interview with a senior South African official in which our policy of disengaging with Israel (to a very limited extent!) and pushing for Palestinian rights was given very mild justification.

    To their honour, the leadership of South African Jewry distanced themselves from these remarks, saying that here Jews face less anti-Semitism most other places (but not none).

    At the time, I took is as raving. But now I wonder if it will become a plank of Israeli policy on South Africa, and whether that may not create its own problems for my Jewish compatriots? Might it be part of Lieberman’s purpose to make the Jews pariahs (almost) everywhere, thus creating “facts on the ground” that justify virulent Zionism?

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