Is Netanyahu Sidestepping Lieberman?
by Jonathan Singer, Tue Jun 02, 2009 at 04:08:59 AM EDT
When the far right Avigdor Lieberman was tapped to serve as Israel's Foreign Minister in a parliamentary coalition led by Bibi Netanyahu, the Foreign Policy blog commented that "Israel's international standing is going to take a major nosedive," and the progressive J Street simply said "Oy." But could Netanyahu be sidestepping his officially designated Foreign Minister? Reading today's Washington Post it certainly seems like it.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak began a round of meetings with top U.S. officials yesterday in a bid to head off an increasingly sharp dispute between the United States and Israel over the expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory.
Israeli officials have been stunned by the demands of top Obama administration officials that Israel halt settlement growth throughout the West Bank, and Barak was said to be carrying compromise proposals focusing mainly on dismantling unauthorized settlement outposts. He met in New York yesterday with special envoy George S. Mitchell, and will meet with Vice President Biden, national security adviser James L. Jones and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in the coming days.
This is a key time in Israel's relationship with the United States. Just two weeks have passed since Netanyahu visited the United States for contentious top level meetings at the White House. The President is indicating that he will play a significantly more active role in trying to secure peace in the Middle East than his predecessor, even if it means prodding Israel to make some tough decisions.
Who does Netanyahu send to America at this time? Not his Foreign Minister, who is viewed unfavorably by many outside of his country, but rather his Defense Minister, who had a very close relationship with the United States and the Clinton Administration, in particular, during his tenure as Prime Minister a decade ago.
Perhaps this is reading too much into these meetings. Then again, maybe Netanyahu has learned at least some lessons from his first failed stint as Prime Minister, when his poor relations with the United States led to the demise of his coalition, and has opted to put forward Israel's best face towards America rather than the face he needed to officially designate in order to form his governing coalition.