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Dr Musa A Keilani: Europeans get a close taste of Israel
October 18, 2010
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Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stands to grab the cake for being branded as the worst foreign minister that the world has ever seen. Not that it would be a bad idea, but his behaviour should be an eye-opener to the world of how a segment of the Israeli population thinks and acts.

Lierberman is reported to have lost his temper on Sunday during a meeting with his Spanish and French counterparts and he told them to go solve Europe’s own disputes and other crises in Africa and elsewhere before coming to the Middle East and instructing Israel how to resolve its.

Describing Europe’s pressure on Israel as an attempt to make up for its failure to resolve conflicts in Somalia, Afghanistan, North Korea, Zimbabwe and Sudan, Lieberman is reported to have told Bernard Kouchner of France and Miguel Moratinos of Spain: “Before you teach us how to resolve conflicts here, I expect at the very least that you solve all the problems in Europe.”

We do not know who leaked Lieberman’s comments to the media, but suspicion is strong that he himself or one of his aides did so at his instruction with a view to embarrassing Europeans further.

Lieberman, founder and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, whose electoral base is the immigrant community from the former Soviet Union, is said to have referred to France’s ban on the full Muslim face veil and to Switzerland’s ban on minarets as signs of European difficulty in dealing with Muslims.

Tzipi Livni of Kadima, who served as foreign minister in the previous government, has berated both Lieberman as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of acting recklessly and undermining Israel’s relations with Europe.

“It’s irresponsible to create crises with the United States just to avert the small risk of a domestic political crisis here,” she said. “We worked hard on upgrading our ties with Europe, and here comes a foreign minister who conducts himself in a wholly reckless situation vis-à-vis the European ministers he hosts.

“We’ve become a powerful economy and that’s good, yet it seems to me this prompts the leadership to assume risks that we shouldn’t be taken,” she said. “It’s irresponsible to say that because we have a strong economy, let’s kick the whole world as if we don’t need them.”

Well, Lieberman, a former night club bouncer from Moldovia, may have enough practice of kicking. However, he deserves credit for speaking bluntly. No one could make any mistake of his position and statements.

Territorial compromise

Lieberman has called to redraw the border between Israel and the West Bank so that Israel would include large Jewish settlement blocs and the Palestinian state would include large Arab-Israeli population centres. We all know that there has to be an inevitable territorial compromise but not an exchange of settlements for Arab-Israeli villages.

However, Lieberman knows what he wants and he does not care whether others like it.

That is not the case with most other Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu, who uses deceptively polite and diplomatic language to disguise his intentions. Even he continues to declare his intense desire for peace with the Palestinians, he adopts actions that undercut prospects for a negotiated peace agreement. Many suspect that Netanyahu is keeping Lieberman, who many accuse of being corrupt, as foreign minister in order to talk tough and resist pressure on Israel.

‘Terror collaborators’

Lieberman is well known for his harsh comments.

In November 2006, Lieberman described Arab members of the Knesset that meet with Hamas as “terror collaborators,” and called for their execution.

In 1998, Lieberman reportedly suggested the bombing of the Aswan Dam in retaliation for Egyptian support for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In 2001, he told a group of ambassadors from the former Soviet Union that if Egypt and Israel were ever to face off militarily again, that Israel could bomb the Aswan Dam.

Commenting on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s refusal to hold official talks in Israeli soil, Lieberman said in 2008:

“Mubarak never agreed to come here as president. He wants to talk to us? Let him come here. He doesn’t want to talk to us? He can go to hell.”

Responding to a commitment made by the then prime minister Ariel Sharon to the US under which Israel undertook to give amnesty to some 350 Palestinian prisoners, Lieberman said: “It would be better to drown these prisoners in the Dead Sea if possible, since that’s the lowest point on the earth.”

Lieberman has been labelled as a “virulent racist,” an “arch racist,” an “anti-Arab demagogue” and a “neo-fascist … a certified gangster … the Israeli equivalent of Jörg Haider.”

Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, has called Lieberman’s campaign “an outrageous, abominable, hate-filled campaign, brimming with incitement that, if left unchecked, could lead Israel to the gates of hell.”

So much for Lieberman’s views and reputation as an Israeli politician. He is also accused of corruption involving millions of dollars. He denies the allegations.

The one positive fallout from Lieberman’s encounter with Kouchner and Moratinos is that the two European ministers got a clear idea of the real colour of those who control Israel today and what to expect from them when the going gets tough.

We do not know how Kouchner and Moratinos and their European Union colleagues would handle the Lieberman affair or whether they would issue a statement critical of the Israeli minister. If they don’t, then it could be attributed to either a reluctance to blow up the affair or their understanding that Lieberman could be soon on his way out of the Israeli cabinet (not because Netanyahu kicks him out but the political imperatives would force him to quit).

In any event, the lesson the European ministers should learn from the Lieberman experience is that Israel is ungrateful to Europe, which has steadfastly backed the Jewish state in the international arena and continues to do so, and would bite whenever it finds the European trying to apply pressure for whatever reason.

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