A baffling, hard-line choice
AVIGDOR Lieberman’s pre vious stints as Israel’s for eign minister under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were a disaster for Israeli-American relations. Mr. Lieberman’s ultranationalist positions on Palestinians, settlements and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rendered him effectively unwelcome in Washington and toxic to Palestinians. Yet to shore up his coalition in the Israeli Parliament, Mr. Netanyahu has now offered Mr. Lieberman the office of minister of defence — widely considered to be the second most powerful position in the Israeli government, with a critical role in dealing with the United States and the Palestinians.
Mr. Netanyahu may think his political needs are more important than relations with the soon-to-end Obama administration, relations that are already severely strained by the nuclear agreement with Iran. But the administration had at least established a working relationship with Moshe Yaalon, the tough but pragmatic defence minister who resigned once the offer to Mr. Lieberman became known. The timing of this changing of the guard is particularly sensitive because a critical 10-year defence agreement establishing new levels of American military aid for Israel is in the final stages of negotiations. It’s hard to imagine peace talks moving rapidly forward in the immediate future, for a number of reasons. But it is entirely possible to imagine Israel’s relations in the region and beyond moving backward with a defence minister who has threatened, among other things, to conquer Gaza or bomb the Aswan Dam in event of a war with Egypt. But Mr Netanyahu seems to think that bringing peace to his shaky coalition, which now holds a scant onevote majority in Parliament, is more important than the risk of putting a rival in charge of Israel’s vaunted security forces and of further straining relations with Washington. Mr Netanyahu may also believe that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel, as Washington has long advocated, is effectively dead for now, and that he may get a better defence deal from next president. But that is a risky and cynical gamble. Next American President is not likely to abandon support for a two-state solution, and Israel’s position in Washington will not be strengthened by a defence minister at odds with Israeli military establishment. — The New York Times