Since he returned to his post as Israel’s foreign minister after a break to fend off failed attempts to prosecute him on corruption charges, Avigdor Lieberman has been treated with the same disdain by the international media and many of Israel’s foreign friends as he got before he was finally acquitted after a decade-long prosecution. Even in Israel’s roughhouse political scene, Lieberman is the proverbial bull in a china shop. The general assumption is that Lieberman, who does not speak fluent English and has a tough-guy political fixer image dating back to his origins in the former Soviet Union, can’t be trusted to deal with nuanced issues. Prime Minister Netanyahu stripped him of any responsibility for relations with the United States as well as the peace process with the Palestinians since he first assumed this crucial Cabinet post. But though Lieberman’s significance has more to do with domestic Israeli politics, occasionally he utters statements that show us he has a better grasp of the situation than the wise guys who often put him down as being out of his depth.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday that Israel must accept U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal for a framework agreement with the Palestinians since “any other proposal from the international community won’t be as good.”
Though that is not what much of the Israeli right—with whose views he is usually associated and for whose votes he will be seeking in the next election when his Yisrael Beitenu Party competes against Netanyahu’s Likud rather than running as its partner as it did in the last two Knesset elections—wants to hear, Lieberman is correct. This does not mean, however, that he is drifting to the left. The minister also noted that although he supports Kerry’s efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace, he and his party will never support an agreement that does not involve an Israeli surrender of territory inside the 1967 lines where Arabs predominate, a position that has been called racist by his opponents. But rather than dismissing this as a poison pill that will, like the Palestinian claim to the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees, ensure that peace will never be achieved, Lieberman’s critics should listen closely to what he says.