A baf­fling, hard-line choice

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS -

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

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